Newsom to announce nation’s first vax-or-test rules for teachers

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gavin Newsom plans to announce Wednesday that California will require all teachers and school employees to be vaccinated or submit to regular Covid-19 testing, the first such state requirement amid growing Delta variant concerns, according to sources familiar with the plan.

Under the policy, school employees would have to show proof of vaccination to their districts. The move comes after three large California districts announced similar requirements on their own Tuesday and just two days after American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten voiced support for such a mandate.

The plan was described to POLITICO by sources who were not authorized to speak ahead of a Wednesday morning press conference at a school in the Bay Area. Until now, the recall-threatened governor had stopped short of requiring teacher vaccinations for the upcoming academic year.

The state’s two major teachers unions — the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers — support the plan, sources said. CTA reports that nearly 90 percent of its members are vaccinated, based on a survey in March.

“We’re not shy about leaning into that space because of the importance of getting this disease behind us, but as it relates to schools, we’re confident in the approach we’re taking,” Newsom said last week at an event at a San Bernardino elementary school when asked about the prospect of a teacher vaccine mandate.

California has seen a rise in Covid-19 infections and hospitalizations this summer as the Delta variant took hold and the state reopened its economy on a wide scale.

The Democratic governor faces a recall election in less than five weeks, and he has shown no willingness to close businesses again while he has insisted that schools will remain open for full in-person instruction this academic year. Newsom is requiring that all students wear masks in school — a position criticized by Republican recall candidates — but he is not mandating that people wear masks at indoor businesses.

Newsom previously imposed vaccine-or-test requirements for state employees and an outright Sept. 30 mandate with limited exemptions for health care workers.

Districts in San Francisco, Long Beach, Oakland and Sacramento announced Tuesday that teachers must show proof of vaccination or get tested regularly for Covid-19 as their campuses reopen this month. They join San Jose Unified, which announced the same requirement last month.

“Long Beach is now the only big city in [the] state where all public employees at city, college, school district & state university have mandates,” Mayor Robert Garcia said in a tweet, noting that Long Beach Unified, which enrolls about 70,000 students, is the largest district in California so far to make the decision.

“All public institutions across the state and country should do the same,” Garcia added.

San Francisco Unified and Sacramento City Unified announced similar policies on Tuesday, with support from their unions. Together, the two districts represent about 15,000 employees and more than 100,000 students.

“As we all return to school buildings in person, we are glad that we can move forward welcoming students and families with excitement and ensuring the safest conditions possible in the midst of this continuing pandemic,” Cassondra Curiel, president of the United Educators of San Francisco, said in a statement.

The state’s largest districts in Los Angeles, San Diego and Fresno have not required vaccines for teachers, but will fall under the Newsom policy being announced Wednesday.

“We are implementing different layers of safety including, but not limited to, requiring periodic COVID testing for all students and staff, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, daily health screening, upgraded air filtration systems, requiring the use of face masks and additional staff to clean and sanitize the classrooms,” Los Angeles Unified spokesperson Shannon Haber said in an email.

At a Public Policy Institute of California event on Tuesday, Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the California State Board of Education, called vaccine-or-test rules “a very smart idea.”

In an interview last week, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said he is not against a mandate but worries that vaccine requirements, which would likely have to be negotiated with unions, are inefficient as many schools are racing against a clock. Many districts have already reopened in California, while others are set to do so over the next three weeks.

“What I can do right now is help more people get a vaccine,” Thurmound said, pointing to “vaccine town halls” and other outreach events hosted by the California Department of Education. “We’re literally pulling out all the stops that we can.”

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