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By Collin Breaux

A mandate from Gov. Gavin Newsom for all California students 12 and older to be fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus has stirred consternation among some parents and residents in South Orange County.

Hundreds of parents and community members held an organizational meeting outside the Capistrano Unified School District offices last week to speak against the mandate and consider next steps in making their opposition clear, including contacting state legislators.

Some in the crowd reportedly believed that the CUSD Board of Trustees was convening a meeting to look at a resolution on vaccines, which the board was not.

Hundreds of parents and community members gather outside of CUSD headquarters on Oct. 5 for a demonstration against the state’s new vaccine mandate for eligible students. Photo: Courtesy of Jim Wynne

Newsom announced on Oct. 1 that pending the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the vaccines, eligible students must be inoculated if they want to continue attending classes in person.

District staff and officials had previously emphasized they must follow state health guidelines. CUSD had not implemented a vaccine mandate for the district, prior to Newsom’s announcement.

In an Oct. 1 message to CUSD families following Newsom’s announcement, CUSD spokesperson Ryan Burris said there “are many unanswered questions” and that the district will keep families updated as they learn more information.

Some of the attendees of the organizational meeting at CUSD headquarters on Oct. 5 said they were against vaccine requirements on the grounds of freedom and individual liberty.

Parents and residents speaking against pandemic-related measures has become a regular occurrence at CUSD meetings, where, at times, they’ve questioned the safety and effectiveness of masks and vaccines.

Students and school faculty and staff throughout California are required to wear masks while indoors on campuses, but they can remove them if they are outdoors.

Health experts have generally said vaccines and masks help prevent the spread of COVID-19, and are not harmful.

“Clinical trials show that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective in people with underlying medical conditions, including those that place them at increased risk for severe COVID-19 symptoms, compared to people without underlying medical conditions,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on its website. “A COVID-19 vaccine cannot make you sick with COVID-19.”

California has one of the lowest COVID-19 rates in the country, according to news reports. Over half of California residents—71.5%, to be exact—were fully vaccinated as of press time, based on the latest state vaccination records.

In Orange County, approximately two-thirds of residents are fully vaccinated. Citing state data, the San Francisco Chronicle reported unvaccinated Californians were between 15 and 20 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than vaccinated ones when deaths from the disease most recently peaked at the start of September.

CUSD maintains an online dashboard of confirmed cases in schools. Cases on the dashboard remain there for 14 days from initial symptoms or test date.

As of Tuesday, Oct. 12, there were three new cases at San Clemente High School and one new case each at Las Palmas Elementary School, Shorecliffs Middle School, Bernice Ayer Middle School, and Vista del Mar Middle School.

In Dana Point, there were four new cases at Dana Hills High School.

In San Juan Capistrano, there were six new cases at Capistrano Union High School, two cases at Ambuehl Elementary School, and one each at Marco Forster Middle School and San Juan Hills High School.

There were five new cases at Esencia K-8 in Rancho Mission Viejo.

In schools where boundaries include the three cities of Dana Point, San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano, there were six new cases at Capistrano Valley High School, five at Tesoro High School, two at Fred Newhart Middle School, and one at Niguel Hills Middle School.

Those figures generally represented a decrease compared to numbers from late August, when the Delta variant surged.

The mandated vaccine requirement for students could go into effect in either January or July, Newsom said. Students are eligible to opt out for religious or personal-belief reasons. If students are not vaccinated, they will have to go into independent study.

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