COVID-19 vaccine site at Fremont High School.
A vaccination clinic is set up inside a local school gym. Credit: Amir Aziz Credit: Amir Aziz

The Berkeley school board will consider a proposal this week that would require all students 12 and older to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing by Jan. 3. The policy would also require student-athletes over 16 years old to be vaccinated with no weekly testing option.

Vaccine mandates for primary and secondary schools are only just taking root. On Sept. 9, Los Angeles Unified became the first large school district in the country to require students to be vaccinated by January 2022 — with no alternative for testing. Most Bay Area school districts have been reluctant to follow suit, but Oakland Unified and West Contra Costa school districts are considering a similar rule.

BUSD’s policy proposal falls short of a vaccine mandate, instead requiring students who are not vaccinated to take weekly tests. Teachers and staff are already required to get vaccinated or tested weekly.

In addition to student-athletes over 16, students at the Berkeley Adult School would also be required to be vaccinated without an option for weekly testing.

Under the proposal, proof of vaccination would be needed to attend indoor sporting events. The school board would develop a list of other optional events that would require vaccination, such as prom.

Superintendent Brent Stephens and School Board President Ty Alper wrote the proposed policy with input from Ana Vasudeo, a school board member. The proposal was discussed at a policy subcommittee meeting last week.

School board members will discuss the proposal at Wednesday night’s board meeting, but there is no scheduled date for when board members will vote on it.

“I think this policy balances critical need to get as many ppl vaxxed as possible w/ our desire to keep kids in school,” Alper wrote in a tweet about the proposal.

In Berkeley, 92% of people between 12 and 18 years old are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and 99% have received one dose of the vaccine. (Just under 10% of students who attend Berkeley schools have an out-of-district transfer permit and live outside the city. Students who live outside Berkeley are not included in the city’s vaccination data.)

Since Aug. 1, BUSD has recorded 63 positive cases out of about 9,000 students and 1,775 staff, and 71% of students are signed up for regular surveillance testing.

In Oakland, where vaccination rates are much lower, some school board members worry that a vaccine requirement would keep students from attending school. Meanwhile, Oakland Unified’s independent study option is currently full.

Berkeley’s Youth Commission, a group that advises the city council and school board on matters affecting the city’s youth, urged the school board to adopt a vaccine mandate for students in a Sept. 14 letter. Citing the examples of Los Angeles Unified and Culver City Unified, the commission called on the board to take the “bold and assertive step” of mandating vaccinations.

Sam Kaplan-Pettus, chair of the youth commission, said he supports the proposed policy, even if it falls short of the full vaccine mandate the youth commission had hoped for.

“I don’t think that the perfect should be the enemy of the possible,” said Kaplan-Pettus, 17, a student at Berkeley City College. “I think it’s not ideal, but I think it’s probably the best that we can do.”

Kaplan-Pettus said legal concerns might be holding the district back from taking a more aggressive approach. Whatever the district policy is, Kaplan-Pettus said peer conversations will be crucial for further raising vaccination rates.

Earlier this year, BUSD partnered with the city of Berkeley to set up vaccination clinics at schools, including at Longfellow Middle School and Civic Center Park near Berkeley High.

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Ally Markovich, who covers the school beat for Berkeleyside, is a former high school English teacher. Her work has appeared in The Oaklandside, The New York Times, Huffington Post and Washington Post,...