California will become the first state in the country to require all teachers and school staff to receive the COVID-19 vaccine or undergo weekly testing, Governor Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday.
“We think this is the right thing to do and we think this is a sustainable way to keeping our schools open and to address the number one anxiety that parents like myself have for young children,” Newsom said of the decision on Wednesday as he visited a San Francisco Bay Area school that has already reopened after summer break.
The announcement comes amid concern over the highly contagious delta variant as California students return to school after summer break.
A number of large school districts in the state had already issued their own vaccine requirements, including San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose and the Long Beach Unified school districts.
Newsom also recently mandated that all California health care workers must be fully vaccinated for employment, with no choice to opt-out for regular testing. The Democrat also announced that all state employees must get vaccinated or choose weekly testing.
The governor had previously issued a mask mandate for teachers and students in indoor classes but had left the question of vaccine mandates to local school districts.
California’s vaccine policy comes days after Dr. Anthony Fauci told USA Today that he would “lean strongly toward” vaccine mandates for teachers, despite the fact that even without a mandate, almost 90 percent of educators and school staffers are vaccinated.
Last week, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, the second-largest teachers union in the country, told NBC that she would support vaccine mandates in a reversal of the union’s previous stance on the issue.
“I do think the circumstances have changed and that vaccination is a community responsibility,” AFT president Randi Weingarten said.
However, not all teachers unions have gotten on board with a vaccine requirement, including the country’s largest union of teachers, the National Education Association.
“There are often complex medical issues at play, and we don’t presume to understand them all,” said NEA president Becky Pringle, according to Education Week.
“Everyone who can be vaccinated should be vaccinated and if they can’t, they should be tested on a regular basis,” she said, adding that vaccination policy should be determined at a local level.
New York State United Teachers also came out against mandated vaccinations of K-12 school staff earlier this month.
“We have advocated since the beginning of the year that any educator who wants a vaccine should have easy access to one,” the statewide teachers union said in a statement. “What we have not supported is a vaccine mandate.”