Saugus district addresses COVID-19 mandate concerns


Saugus Union School District board members have decided to write a letter asking Gov. Gavin Newsom and Santa Clarita Valley representatives for transparency and clarification on a future vaccination mandate that would affect children ages 5 to 11 in grades K-6.   

More than 30 parents showed up at the Saugus district board meeting on Tuesday night to ask for support from the governing board in their choice of whether to vaccinate their children. The district had to set up an overflow room because there were so many attendees.  

In addition, the governing board reorganized itself for the upcoming year and approved two settlements with the Classified School Employees Association Chapter No. 112.   

Reorganization of the board  

The Saugus district governing board quickly reorganized at the beginning of the meeting. Board members Laura Arrowsmith, trustee area No. 2, and David Barlavi, trustee area No. 1, were thanked for their service as the former president and clerk of the board, respectively.  

Then the governing board elected Christopher Trunkey, trustee area No. 5, as president of the board and Katherine Cooper, trustee area No. 3, as the clerk for the 2022-23 school year. Matthew Watson, trustee area No. 4, continues as a board member.  

Parent concerns, board to draft letter  

Parents, district employees, students, a doctor and a nurse shared their information, frustration and concerns about COVID-19 vaccines with the governing board. Each speaker echoed their desire for a resolution in support of parent choice on whether to vaccinate their children.   

In October, the Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that K-12 students must be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a requirement for in-person instruction for the term following full U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of a vaccine for their age groups.  

“Our kids deserve to live in an environment that is most optimal for learning,” said Karen Widman, a parent and founder of the Committee to Support Parental Engagement in Santa Clarita Valley. “It’s this board’s job to create an environment that will do that for them. I implore you to reach out to the parents, create surveys so that we can get a real assessment as to where families stand on these issues.”  

Parents in attendance said they were frustrated with the governing board because they did not have a resolution as an action item, but just as a discussion. The board gave each person a minute and a half to speak, instead of the usual three minutes, because there were so many requests to speak.   

Speaker after speaker reiterated their key point: “Where this is a risk, there must be a choice.” Some parents just want more time to make an informed decision on whether to vaccinate their children, and some parents expressed they will not vaccinate their children, ever.  

After public comment, many parents left the meeting, and the governing board discussed its next steps on the matter.  

Barlavi opened up the conversation defending science and supporting COVID-19 vaccinations. He supports Newsom’s future mandate, and he would be in favor of passing a resolution defending that mandate, he added.  

“I want to get us back to normal, and in the middle of a pandemic, the path to that is through vaccinations,” Barlavi said.   

Arrowsmith read aloud Newsom’s future mandate to break it down.   

“The COVID-19 vaccine mandate for school children was established by regulation instead of legislation, so it must allow for a personal belief exception,” Arrowsmith said. “Legislators have indicated that they’re considering legislation that would outline how families could seek an exemption before they write new vaccine legislation.”  

After discussion, the board decided they would draft a letter asking for clarification, and transparency for parents on how to qualify for an exception if parents choose not to vaccinate their children. They are also in favor of asking to push back the timeline for when children should get vaccinated under Newsom’s future mandate. 

“It is important to advocate on behalf of our families who don’t want to vaccinate their children or who want to postpone that decision until they feel more comfortable doing so,” Cooper said.  

Saugus district staff will write a draft letter and bring it back at the next board meeting in mid-January for ratification and possible approval from the board.   

Governing board approves settlements  

The governing board unanimously approved to pay two settlements with the CSEA Chapter No. 112 for work-related grievances from June through July.  

According to the agenda, in June, the district posted a classified vacancy for instructional assistants and campus supervisors at Rosedell, Emblem Academy and Santa Clarita school sites. These workers would support the Saugus Summer STEAM Camp program for 19 days.  

However, campus supervisors and instructional aides fulfilled a teacher role and supervised an average of 25 students without additional support in the classroom.   

As a result, these workers were underpaid for going above and beyond their responsibilities and duties. The board voted to compensate campus supervisors who worked during that time 5% above their regular rate of pay.   

Moving forward, officials said the district will also advertise its programs more transparently.  

In the second work dispute, instructional assistants and campus supervisors during that same period would work each day from 7:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. These workers were tasked with instruction and had to change classrooms during their scheduled break time, according to the settlement.   

The district agreed to pay these workers for their by-law breaks. The financial impact for these settlements resulted in the district paying a total of $5,800 plus benefits.  

The next Saugus district board meeting is scheduled Jan. 19, after winter break.   

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