Educators and school staff in California must be vaccinated by mid-October or submit to weekly testing, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday, making California the first to implement a statewide vaccine mandate for teachers. “We believe this will be well received because it’s the right thing to do to keep our most precious resource, our children, safe,” said Newsom, who spoke from an elementary school in Oakland, which returned 35,000 students to school this week. The governor called the vaccine requirement “essential” to ensure schools are able to remain open as new COVID-19 variants challenge well-laid school reopening plans.
“The one thing that can end this pandemic once and for all is available to everybody in abduncace,” Newsom said. “And that’s a vaccine. It will not only save your lives but allow us to sustainably keep our kids back in in-person instruction
The announcement follows a recommendation from Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, that state and local governments should require educators to be vaccinated in order to protect children, the majority of whom are not yet eligible for vaccines.
School districts in Long Beach, Oakland, Sacramento, San Francisco and San Jose have already already announced similar vaccine requirements, as have a handful of school systems outside of California, including New York City, Denver and Washington, D.C.
Other states and school districts are expected to follow suit as the highly contagious delta variant causes infection, transmission and hospitalization rates to spike at the same time more than 50 million children are headed back to school – some under mask-optional policies.
Newsom announced last month that state employees and health care workers must be fully vaccinated or be tested for COVID-19 at least once a week but at the time left the decision to vaccinate teachers up to local school districts.
“We think that this is the right thing to do and we think it’s a sustainable way to keep our schools open and address the anxiety that parents have,” he said, “which is knowing that schools are doing everything in their power to keep the kids safe and keep the kids healthy.”
California’s two teachers unions, the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers, backed the vaccine mandate, lauding Newsom for collaborating with labor leaders over the issue.
“Now with this announcement we have a very important layer of protection for our students in place,” said Keith Brown, president of the Oakland Education Association. “I encourage all who can to get vaccinated. Vaccines work and they keep our students and community safe.”
In recent weeks, the leaders of the two national teachers unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, began supporting vaccine mandates for educators as long as there is an option to test weekly for those who cannot be vaccinated or do not wish to be – a position they were initially hesitant to take.
The rising support for vaccine mandates for educators comes as the White House increasingly focuses on vaccines as the best way to return students to classrooms and keep schools open as the delta variant is already forcing school closures and a return to virtual learning in school districts with mask-optional policies.