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Mead School Board urges state to reject COVID-19 vaccine mandate for students

UPDATED: Wed., Jan. 12, 2022

Mead High School students wait to enter the building in a socially distanced line on the first day of school Sept. 21, 2020, in Spokane. The Mead School Board on Monday, voted to oppose efforts by the state to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for students.  (Libby Kamrowski/ THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Mead High School students wait to enter the building in a socially distanced line on the first day of school Sept. 21, 2020, in Spokane. The Mead School Board on Monday, voted to oppose efforts by the state to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for students. (Libby Kamrowski/ THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Jordan Tolley-Turner For The Spokesman-Review

The Mead School Board voted unanimously Monday to oppose efforts to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for K-12 students.

The decision was made two days before the state Board of Health will receive an update on the possibility of mandating vaccines, though the state board has said no mandate will be voted on at the meeting.

The district recently solicited responses to an online survey about a potential vaccine mandate. The district said 51% of more-than 3,000 respondents said they would remove children from the Mead School District rather than have their child vaccinated if no exemption was allowed.

The board’s decision, along with the survey data gathered by the district, will be sent to the state Board of Health.

“We’ve reached out to the community, we’ve asked for their input and we’re hearing both sides,” said school board member BrieAnne Gray, who won her board seat in the November election on a platform that included opposition to mask and vaccine mandates. “We’ve been able to pass this information and those comments onto the state Board of Health before they make their decision so we can be a part of this discussion.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that most children 5 and older receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The academy also suggests that “jurisdictions should consider the most effective measures to ensure maximum vaccination of all eligible individuals and should coordinate appropriately with local and state immunization efforts, including immunization information systems.”

From Jan. 1 through Dec. 26 in 2021, 11 people with COVID-19 from infants through age 19 died in Washington, according to the state Department of Health. From Dec. 12 through Dec. 26, 45 people in that age group were hospitalized in the state.

In November, the Seattle School Board voted unanimously to urge the state Board of Health to approve a vaccine mandate for students.

Multiple Mead School Board members said they hope that other school boards also will take positions on a possible vaccine mandate.

Monday’s Mead meeting started in person, but soon after, Board President Chad Burchard shut down the meeting after multiple attendees refused to wear masks and vocally opposed Burchard’s attempt to follow the state mask rules.

Burchard estimated there were about 20 people in the crowd without a mask on, and although about half of them did eventually follow his request, the other half continued to refuse.

“The mandate requires that masks be worn on school property,” Burchard said. “I just believe I have to follow the mandate and I believe the other school districts are doing the same.”

Burchard said as board president, he has to uphold mandates, even if he doesn’t agree with them. He noted when he goes to Idaho on weekends, he doesn’t wear a mask because there isn’t a statewide mandate there.

COVID-19 cases are soaring locally, including in the Mead School District, which confirmed 468 cases among students and staff in the previous 10 days.

The meeting restarted virtually an hour later with a 35-minute public comment period during which all but one of the nine people who testified spoke against vaccine mandates, mask mandates or both.

“We have the ability to turn this around, to dig in our heels, and say ‘No.’ We’re going to be a district that thinks critically, we’re going to be a district that educates our children and our families about what choice looks like,” Jay Pounder commented.

Some who testified criticized the decision to end the in-person meeting.

“I really, really hope that when the Washington State Board of Health implements that requirement, because I have a very good feeling that they will, you as Mead School Board and the district do not fold in the face of that like you did tonight faced with a few mothers who wouldn’t wear a mask,” Emilee Combs commented.

Board member Michael Cannon didn’t anticipate the in-person meeting being canceled, but said the meeting had become uncivil.

“I’ve not made it a mystery that I’m no fan of masking and that I think the level of enforcement is a little bit strong, but at the same time. there has to be good decorum in a meeting, and I think what happened last night was not so much people complying with the masks but the outbursts and insults,” Cannon said Tuesday.

The Washington Board of Health is studying the possibility of mandating a COVID-19 vaccine for students. The idea will be discussed at a state health board meeting Wednesday, but no decision will be made.

Instead, the board will consider a proposal that would prevent the state from mandating any vaccine for students if the vaccine has not been fully approved by the Federal Drug Administration.

So far, the FDA has fully approved only the Pfizer vaccine for people 16 and older.

The Pfizer vaccine has received emergency authorization from the FDA to be used for children 5 to 15.

The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have not been fully approved by the FDA .

The resolution approved by the Mead School Board claims a COVID-19 vaccine mandate would “result in irreparably broken trust with the community” and “create an unreasonable administrative burden” on the district.

Burchard said he is pro-vaccination for most vaccines, but in general believes it should be up to the parents. Cannon, who said he is vaccinated, holds a similar view.

“People don’t want a mandate,” Cannon said. “They don’t want to be forced into making a health decision they are uncomfortable with. And so we’re trying to make everyone’s voices heard as early in the process as possible to preclude a mandate.”

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