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Hundreds gather in Huntington Beach as part of statewide school walkout

Marissa Toma helps Ciela Chapman hold a sign during school walkout at the Huntington Beach Pier on Monday.
Marissa Toma helps Ciela Chapman, 6, hold a sign during school walkout to oppose vaccination mandates at the Huntington Beach Pier on Monday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Parents and children gathered at Pier Plaza in Huntington Beach Monday morning to protest the state’s school vaccine mandates for children.

The yellow T-shirts offered at the site — priced at $10 and proclaiming “I don’t co-parent with the government” — sold out within an hour.

Several hundred people showed up at the peak of the protest, part of a statewide school walkout. Some, like Lora Irwin, attended a smaller protest across the street from Edison High School earlier Monday before heading to Pier Plaza.

Irwin is the mother of three sons, including a senior and junior at Edison. She did not give their first names for fear of retaliation, she said.

“My son, if they mandate [the vaccine] in January, is he not going to graduate?” Irwin said. “My other son is a junior. Is he not going to be able to play football next year if he doesn’t get it? With the survival rate and the scientific evidence now, they should not be forcing us to get it. We don’t think it’s right for our kids. They’re going to be denied an in-person education, which we are entitled to. Their civil rights are now violated because of our own personal choice.”

A student holds a sign with a message for Gov. Gavin Newsom during a school walk-out to oppose vaccination mandates Monday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

On Oct. 1, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a COVID-19 vaccination requirement for all of the state’s public and private schoolchildren. The requirement would go into place starting with the school term following the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s full approval of the vaccine for children 12 and older.

Newsom said students 12 and older could be required to be vaccinated by January if there is federal approval by the end of the year. However, parents can opt out based on personal beliefs, although that specific criterion is yet to be defined.

“Today’s measure, just like our first-in-the-nation school masking and staff vaccination requirements, is about protecting our children and school staff, and keeping them in the classroom,” Newsom said in introducing the requirement. “Vaccines work. It’s why California leads the country in preventing school closures and has the lowest case rates. We encourage other states to follow our lead to keep our kids safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Some parents were already peeved that their children began the school year forced to wear masks indoors, per California Department of Public Health guidelines. But the vaccine requirement would add the COVID-19 shot to the list of vaccines children already need before they can attend school.

The majority of kids ages 12 to 17 in Orange County have already met the requirement. According to data from the Orange County Health Care Agency, 163,458 children in that age range have received at least one vaccine dose, compared to 80,295 who remain unvaccinated.

Hundreds of people gather on Pacific Coast Highway near the Huntington Beach Pier to protest vaccination mandates on Monday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Ocean View School District reported no increase in staff absences Monday. But student absences were up 9.27% from the previous Monday, district public information manager Trish Montgomery said.

“We understand that families and students may have strong emotions and questions about Gov. Newsom’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate,” OVSD Supt. Carol Hansen said in a statement. “However, keeping children home from school to protest the requirement does not hurt the state, but it does result in lost learning time and funding for Ocean View students.”

Newport-Mesa Unified School District spokeswoman Annette Franco said district officials “didn’t see a significant decrease in attendance” across district campuses due to Monday’s walkout or any other observable reason.

“Attending school has a huge impact on a student’s academic success, and while people may disagree about the protocols schools are required to follow, we can all agree that keeping students in school is what’s best for their growth and achievement,” Franco later said in a statement.

The district recently required all faculty and staff to prove their vaccination status or provide weekly negative COVID-19 test results to the district office, Franco said.

Sydney Salas, 9, has her face painted with the words "Freedom Not Fear."
Sydney Salas, 9, has her face painted during a protest to oppose vaccination mandates at the Huntington Beach Pier on Monday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Lindsay Murad was one NMUSD parent who did pull her kids from school Monday. The Costa Mesa resident attended Monday’s rally with her daughter, Siena, and son, Zachary, who are in third and first grade, respectively, at Davis Magnet School.

“As a parent, I want to continue to have the right to decide what’s in the best interest of my children, for their health,” Murad said. “I don’t see the necessity of this vaccine as a part of their health, so I want to continue to advocate for choice for myself and for other families.

“We’re not opposed to the vaccine. I’m very thankful that there’s an opportunity for people to take it if they want. I just want to continue to have the choice to make my own informed decisions of whether or not it’s the best for myself and for my children, and to maintain that for everybody else as well.”

Huntington Beach City School District spokeswoman Adriana Angulo said attendance data for Monday was unavailable. District officials said in a statement that they acknowledged the rights of parents to protest the vaccine mandate but also believe that students should be at school with their peers and teachers.

“Because the vaccine mandate is a directive of the governor, not the Legislature, we have been told that medical, religious and personal belief exemptions will apply,” the statement read. “We recommend that families who are concerned about these vaccine mandates share their feedback with state officials, for whom we have provided contact information on our website.”

Staff writer Sara Cardine contributed to this story.

Sarita Brown, from Lakewood, chants during a protest to oppose vaccination mandates at the Huntington Beach Pier on Monday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

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