No requirement to show proof of vaccination may bring reprieve in falling school enrollment
Special to the Sierra Sun
California elementary and secondary school students will not be required to show proof of vaccination at the start of the academic year, according to an announcement made Thursday by the California’s Governor’s Office.
“This has a big impact for schools in Nevada County,” Superintendent Brett McFadden said Friday of the student vaccine mandate’s delay. “Parents who were concerned about the vaccination requirement have now another year to determine whether or not the vaccine requirement goes into effect.”
Based off data collected last month on student attendance, the Nevada Joint Union High School District lost 191 students since the start of the school year, McFadden said.
The decision — controversial for some — is decidedly beneficial to Nevada County’s public school district, McFadden said, based off attendance alone.
“We have such a high percentage of parents and families who are either opposed to vaccinations in general or have concerns about the COVID vaccinations,” McFadden said. “We’ve heard from a number of parents that they were going to pull their students from public schools or move away and were concerned about what happened to school enrollment.”
McFadden said he is just one school supervisor who has expressed concerns over the staunch decline in student attendance related to changing COVID-19 compliance rules because public school districts’ funding is determined by the institutions’ enrollment and average daily attendance.
“When a school district loses students, it loses a portion of its funding, and that has an effect on what services and programs we can provide,” McFadden said. “Having the vaccine question answered for next year offers schools in Nevada County a reprieve from the effects of Nevada County schools’ further declining enrollment.”
According to the Education Data Initiative, California K-12 schools spend $14,053 per pupil annually, with $8,017 coming from the state and the rest from local jurisdictions.
McFadden said faculty and staff are still required to vaccinate or submit a weekly COVID-19 test, a mandate California introduced to its public schools five months ago. None of the superintendent’s faculty stepped down due to this requirement over the last year.
March 15 was the deadline to delivering pink slips to teachers who may be subject to layoffs before the start of the new academic year, McFadden said, but the jury is still out on who will stay and who has to go.
McFadden did not specify the number of initial pink slips distributed to his district’s teachers, but said this year administrators delivered the highest number of initial notifications for certificated and classified staff within the last five to six years.
According to the Public Health Department and statewide vaccination statistics, over 60% of Nevada County’s residents are fully vaccinated, but McFadden said “for every (student) family that was concerned about a lack of vaccination, there is probably at least four of five families opposed to further vaccinations.“
McFadden said he is not surprised or upset by parents’ concerns for or against vaccinations based off the kind of demographics the region attracts, historically.
“If you look at public health records,” McFadden said, “you can see Nevada County has lower vaccination rates per capita than the majority of other counties in California.”
McFadden said people are concerned about vaccinations as it pertains to their physical health, but more broadly are concerned about the state or federal government overreaching in their role in individual’s lives.
“Nevada County has attracted a wide array of diverse individuals with different philosophical opinions — it’s been a part of the county for generations,” McFadden said.
McFadden said apart from the region’s varied ideological subscriptions, the region is markedly older than it was 20 years ago.
District enrollment was close to 5,000 students in the mid-1990s, McFadden said. Now it’s below 2,400.
“In 20 years, the enrollment has been cut 55%,” McFadden said, attributing the trend to large demographic issues within the state. “If we don’t have affordable housing or a viable economic base for jobs, it’s not going to attract younger families.
“Because of demographic issues — absent COVID-19 — I’m going to predict most likely we’ll have layoffs going into next year,” McFadden said, adding that the layoffs will be ”less severe“ following the governor’s announcement.
McFadden, who is transitioning out of his role at the end of June to take up academic oversight responsibilities in Monterey Bay, said he is grateful for the good news but knows “we’re not out of the woods yet.”
McFadden said one could make the argument that the pandemic has not been handled well — by the institutions responsible for supporting societal structures or individuals.
“If we’re a country that espouses that we protect individual rights, but you have to infringe on the rights (in order to protect) broader society — that causes a considerable amount of debate and passion,” McFadden said.
Participating in conversation with new policies or old norms that affect personal freedoms is beneficial for all, but the approach matters, he said.
“When you’re in a tight-knit community, relationships are important,” McFadden said. “We have to attack issues, not people. I try to teach those values to students, but it’s hard when adults don’t emulate that.”
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union, a sister publication of the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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On March 9, parents of Golden Valley Tahoe School spent roughly two hours making impassioned pleas to the Board of Trustees in hopes of keeping their school open.