Students participating in extracurricular activities in the San Mateo Union High School District will now need to be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing following a unanimous vote by the district’s board of trustees.

The policy will take effect Nov. 15 across the district’s six comprehensive high schools comprising roughly 9,000 students throughout the county. Students participating in activities including sports, clubs, plays and dances will need to show proof of having received all required doses at least 14 days prior or negative test results from that week.

“We need to move forward, and this moves us forward,” Peter Hanley, Board of Trustees vice president, said. “It moves us to a safer position in terms of protecting students and protecting staff.”

The policy was originally introduced last month as a mandate that did not include the option for unvaccinated students to test to continue activities. The rule was put on hold and revised after parents, teachers and some trustees voiced concern it would alienate or otherwise harm some students while having a limited impact on vaccination rates.

The district has had 65 confirmed COVID-19 cases among students and staff since reopening this year and the student vaccination rate is currently 87%, according to the district.

Trustee Linda Lees Dwyer voted for the mandate but expressed reservations, and asked that the once-a-week testing opportunities at schools be expanded. All six high schools offer free weekly testing, but Dwyer pointed out that if a student misses their chance to be tested on campus that week, they could find themselves barred from extracurriculars.

“I want no one rejected from an extracurricular event because they didn’t get a test,” Dwyer said. “It’s a hesitant yes with the caveat that I want every child to have every opportunity.”

District Superintendent Kevin Skelly and others assured the issue could be addressed. Students can test at other schools or at other testing sites in the county, and school athletic trainers and health aides could help facilitate testing beyond the normally offered hours.

“I hope everyone will take advantage of the vaccines and we do need to offer the testing on a very wide basis,” said board President Robert Griffin. “And I hope ... that we will take steps to cover any gaps in the coverage or any inequities.”

Among concerns previously brought forward was that a mandate without the weekly testing option would disproportionately affect students of color who have had the lowest vaccination rates.

According to the district’s numbers from September, 87% of Asian students, 85% of Filipino students, 84% of mixed-race students, 82% of white students, 61% of Latino students, 58% of Pacific Islander students and 55% of Black students were vaccinated.

Public comment Thursday evening on the rule was split between support and opposition, as some said the requirement would help protect students and others questioned the need for the mandate or the safety or effectiveness of vaccines.

“When we worry about equity in vaccination and participation the answer is not to make less of an effort at COVID safety, but rather more of an effort,” Nils Headley, a parent and teacher at Mills High School, said. “This mandate is part of that.”

Additionally, the activities affected are often those where masking is not practical, Headley said.

Trustee Peter Hanley, who originally suggested the extracurriculars mandate, said he would like to see a vaccine mandate for all students beginning next year.

“We have the capacity to be leaders in this,” Hanley said. “We are never going to get masks out of schools until we get everybody vaccinated.”

“If we had a polio epidemic, a diphtheria epidemic, even a measles epidemic, rampant in our community, we wouldn’t be hesitating to insist that everybody was vaccinated,” he said. “I want it on the agenda, I want a conversation about it.”

Oakland, Berkeley, Piedmont and Los Angeles have already approved vaccine or test mandates for students aged 12 or older in K-12 schools, with start dates varying.

Gov. Gavin Newsom early this month announced that all K-12 students in the state will need to be vaccinated this summer to receive in-person education this fall semester, pending full approval of vaccines for all ages.

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(1) comment


Hanley - Your totalitarian statement ..."“We are never going to get masks out of schools until we get everybody vaccinated.” is tragic.

Mandates/vaccines are unscientific, unconstitutional, violation of person rights, and just plain inhumane for children, who statistically have proven to have almost no probably of catching covid. Less than the flu, auto accidents, etc. Let them live their lives. And make the masks and mandates voluntary.

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