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Citing parental rights, O.C. Board of Education weighs in against nonexistent vaccine mandates

A woman receives a COVID-19 vaccine shot at the Disneyland lot in Anaheim.
(Photo by BBP West)

As Orange County wrestles with vaccine hesitancy, the county’s Board of Education on Wednesday night approved a statement against mandatory vaccinations and a resolution against digital vaccine passports.

The board voted 4-1 in favor of each, with the only dissenting votes coming from board member Rebecca Gomez, who serves Fountain Valley, Santa Ana, portions of Garden Grove and portions of Tustin.

“The Board stands side-by-side with Orange County residents against mandatory vaccinations, particularly of school-age children,” the board’s statement reads. “The Board has repeatedly proven itself to be a strong supporter of parental rights and vehemently condemns and opposes any effort to curtail parents’ authority to make the best choices for their children. Schools are for inculcating facts and knowledge, and not advancing vaccination mandates for children who are at very little risk of the COVID-19 pathogen. The Board is grateful to our constituents for coming out to our meeting, sharing your voices and participating in our great American democratic experiment. And most of all, thank you for advocating for your children and their future.”

Board member Ken Williams read a portion of the resolution against vaccine passports aloud during the meeting.

“Therefore the Orange County Board of Education declares its opposition to vaccine or health digital passports, mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations or any future legal use of digital documentation of health records,” Williams read.

Recently, county Board of Supervisors’ meetings have been overtaken by dozens of members of the public who have railed against vaccine passports. Many have compared the idea of a passport to practices of the Nazis, who murdered an estimated 6 million Jewish people during the Holocaust.

Some of the public wore yellow stars on their arms during the meetings, meant to symbolize the yellow stars of David that the Nazis forced Jewish people to wear during the Holocaust.

Many speakers have also mentioned that the county should not mandate vaccines for children or adults. O.C. Health Care Agency Director Clayton Chau has repeatedly said that children need parental consent to get a vaccine, and the county is not issuing a “vaccine passport.”

At the Board of Education meeting, several members of the public echoed the anti-passport sentiments shared at the Supervisor’s meetings.

“This idea of mandating vaccines is ridiculous to me because honestly this is medical freedom,” said a woman named Jenna — the board asks public speakers to only give a first name. “What’s happening is taking away the freedoms of parents and of all people to be able to decide whether they want to have a genetically modifying experimental drug put into their body or be cut out of society potentially. Because if we are going to be having vaccine passports, things that show whether you’re vaccinated or not, logically let’s just think what’s going to happen ... I don’t need to become a genetically modified organism which is literally, literally, truthfully, what this will do to people, because this vaccine is an mRNA vaccine, it’s not really a vaccine like anything that’s ever happened before.”

A woman named Laurie said Chau’s presumed intent was “destructive” and “evil.”

“We should all refuse to be strong-armed into accepting the COVID passport on any experimental drug, especially this mRNA one,” she said. “This is in direct violation of Nuremberg trials and using everyone as guinea pigs.”

The Nuremberg Trials were military tribunals held after World War II to prosecute Nazis who took part in the Holocaust and committed war crimes.

Following public comments, Williams, who proposed the resolution and statement, said the board should be taking a leadership role against vaccine passports because the idea is “invasive” and “runs afoul of personal health data.”

“Once this concept gets going it’s like a wildfire, and it just continues to grow,” Williams said. “Unfortunately, right now, this digital passport is being promoted globally ... If we don’t stop and make it an issue and come out against it and bring the public’s attention to it, they’re gonna require kids to have the digital vaccine passport.”

Orange County will close mass vaccination sites at the Anaheim Convention Center, OC Fair & Event Center, Soka University and Santa Ana College.

Gomez said schools already have the ability to look at a registry for immunizations in California.

“Schools and caregivers have the opportunity to look at whether or not a child has immunizations, it’s already in place, it’s been in place for a number of years,” Gomez said. "... I’m not sure what the point of this resolution is.”

She also said that the paper cards given to people when they are vaccinated could be difficult to keep track of.

“Those little yellow cards, I bet if we ask where those are for our children, half of us wouldn’t know,” Gomez said.

Gomez was the only board member wearing a mask during the meeting. She was also the only member with a plastic partition between herself and other members.

Four of the five members were present at the meeting. Member Lisa Sparks attended by phone.

The O.C. Board of Education doesn’t determine much of anything for Orange County schools. Board members, who are elected to four-year terms, approve charter schools and hear interdistrict transfer and expulsion appeals.

The board also approves the annual budget of the Orange County Department of Education, which is distinct from the board.

“Neither the O.C. Board of Education nor OCDE determines the curriculum of local districts,” said OCDE spokesman Ian Hanigan in an email. “Locally elected school boards and their superintendents are responsible for implementing curriculum that aligns with state standards. Similarly, neither the O.C. Board of Ed nor OCDE would have a role in setting policy relating to vaccinations.”

The mostly right-wing board has stirred controversy, especially during the pandemic.

In July, the board sparked outrage when it voted to reopen schools in the fall without mandatory masks or increased social distancing. The vote came as COVID-19 cases surged and as a large contingent of anti-maskers emerged in Orange County.

Currently, the county is dealing with how to educate the public to combat vaccine hesitancy. For the most part, California’s recent success against the virus has been the public’s willingness to get vaccinated. Yet, some may still be hesitant for a number of reasons, some of which may be fueled by misinformation.

Andrew Noymer, a UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, said the Board of Education is stirring the pot with its statement on vaccination mandates for children.

He said the board is reinforcing and echoing the beliefs of people who are hesitant to get a vaccine.

“What the O.C. Board of Education is doing is making a statement that they won’t allow involuntary vaccination of Orange County children, but nobody’s saying that that’s going to happen,” Noymer said.

“I agree with them that forcibly vaccinating anyone, let alone a child, would be an evil thing. They’re screaming loudly that they’re going to oppose this, but nobody’s actually proposing that it will happen.”

When it comes to the vaccine passport, Noymer said the analogies to the Nazis is over the top. However, he is concerned that any vaccine passport needs to be handled with care because it will have sensitive medical information and can be a target for hackers.

“I think that eventually when we get around to occupational and educational requirements for vaccines for COVID, we will need a system in which vaccination status can be verified, perhaps in a way that’s better than just some paper stock card,” Noymer said. “That being said, I think the digital vaccine passport needs to be implemented with enormous care and not kind of cobbled together overnight at the drop of a hat.”

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