In response to Governor Gavin Newsom’s Oct. 1 announcement of a mandatory vaccine requirement for all students and staff, Galt Joint Union Elementary School District (GJUESD) trustees instructed Superintendent Lois Yount to send a letter to state officials regarding the board’s stance on the new mandate at their October meeting. That letter was presented at the board’s latest meeting on Nov. 17.

“The governing board of the GJUESD requests that the governor and legislature uphold the constitutionally guaranteed right to provide informed consent before proceeding with any medical procedure,” the letter said. “The state should allow for parents, students and staff to have a choice in the matter by recommending and not requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for students and staff of K-12 Local Education Agencies. The current weekly testing or voluntary vaccination system is working well in GJUESD. If the vaccine is mandatory, GJUESD requests the ability to honor religious, medical and personal belief exemptions.”

The letter explained that the vaccine requirement “created unrest and controversy in our communities and school systems like no other. Parents, staff, and community members have expressed concern regarding the lack of parental and personal choice with this proposed mandate.”

Although only one state official, State Senator Susan Talamentes Eggman, responded, community members on both sides of the issue responded in full force.

The district received 10 public comment emails to be read at the November meeting and, of the 115 in attendance, nearly 20 individuals requested to speak at that meeting.

Of the 10 letters read, eight were not happy that the board chose this course of action. Of the 18 public speakers, all but three thanked the board for “standing with parents” in their fight for parental rights.

Included in the public speakers was a fifth grader from Lake Canyon Elementary. Eleven-year-old Cody Robinson first voiced his concerns regarding masks, but then spoke to the vaccine mandate and the possibility he would no longer be able to attend a school that he loves.

“I do not want something in my body that we do not have enough information about,” Robinson said. “The vaccine has only been out for less than a year. That’s not enough time to be so sure that something is sick. It should take years to figure that out. If the vaccine for kids happens, I will have to leave Lake Canyon and that is not something I want to do. I love Lake Canyon and I love my teachers. But I don’t want to get the vaccine, because I don’t know what it will do to me. I understand why I would have to leave Lake Canyon. My parents do not want to take the risk with getting this vaccine. I understand that not everyone feels the same as me and my family do about this vaccine, and that is okay. Some people are scared and feel the vaccine will help them, that is okay too. I feel that there should be a decision each person can make with their own body.”

Like Robinson, several public speakers told board members that they would also pull their children from schools if the vaccine mandate goes into effect.

Yount had reported at the October meeting that the statewide vaccine protest, which saw parents pulling their children out of school on a specific day, cost the district nearly $80,000 in funding. A similar protest was held in November. Yount reported that the November protest saw only half of the absences as the October demonstration, and an additional $40,000 was lost to the district.

Two public speakers thanked the board for their effort, but also voiced their concerns that a letter isn’t enough, and asked the trustees to further engage with state officials.

Where those in favor of the board’s letter commended their effort to “stand for parental rights,” those opposed to the letter cautioned the board from listening to the “loud, ignorant folks” who are using their children as “political pawns”.

Valley Oaks teacher Kim Lizama voiced that she was embarrassed with what the board did.

“I am writing to express my shock and embarrassment of a recent decision the board made to define our school district as one that does not believe in science nor in keeping students and staff safe, but rather capitulates to a few uninformed community members who are dead set on pushing a political agenda rather than protecting our students,” Lizama wrote in an email to the board.

After an hour of public comments, Board Chair Tom Silva thanked those who spoke.