“Our kids, our choice!” chanted parents to a chorus of car horns blaring past the corner of Baker and Bear Street on Tuesday, just an hour before the Newport-Mesa Unified School District board of trustees would call their regular board meeting to session.
Some waved signs, while one woman walked up and down the sidewalk with an American flag in tow. A few children were running back and forth between the crowd gathered in front of the district’s office, a familiar sight and gathering place for discontent Newport-Mesa parents to voice their objections to mandates handed down by Gov. Gavin Newsom. Before, the issue was masks and when it was that school-age children would be brought back into the classroom.
Tuesday’s demonstration was over vaccines.
Earlier this month, Newsom announced a statewide COVID-19 vaccination requirement to all public and private schoolchildren. That order would affect all students in grades seven through 12, beginning with the school term after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration fully approved the vaccine for children ages 12 and older. Younger students would be phased with vaccine approvals.
Costa Mesa resident and organizer Henny Abraham said the impetus for the protest Tuesday was in response to a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel vote to recommend child-sized doses of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine for children ages 5 to 11.
The FDA is not bound by the recommendations of the advisory body and is expected to make their own decision in the coming days.
“We just want to make sure that there is freedom of choice. At this point, it’s not about being vaccinated or not being vaccinated. It’s that the parents are the ones that get to choose what to do,” said Abraham. “It’s not the schools’ job. It’s not the state’s job.”
“Parents should be the first … and last line of decision,” said Abraham. “Most of us here are not anti-vaxxers. My kids are fully vaccinated with the proven vaccines. But at this time if we feel uncomfortable and we want to wait, it shouldn’t be forced upon anyone and that element of choice should never be taken away.”
Abraham said she felt it was unfortunate that the matter has been politicized. She said the people gathered Tuesday all love their public schools, but that if parents felt that they weren’t being heard by their schools they would pull their children out of them.
Abraham made such a decision for her own children last month, removing them from Woodland Elementary because she felt she couldn’t get an answer from the district on the vaccine requirements. She is currently homeschooling her children.
Other parents held similar contentions about the vaccine order. Donnell Csanyi said she came out to protest the order because she believed there wasn’t enough time or research put into the vaccine.
“To put [the vaccine] into our children is just not acceptable to me,” said Csanyi. “There’s never been a vaccine ever that’s taken less than four years and they’re trying to put this out in less than a year. They have no idea what the long-term effects are, so I’m here to fight for that because I don’t co-parent with the government.”
Kelly Muniz, a Davis Magnet School parent, said she was concerned about her two children being forced to be vaccinated and that parents should have had the choice to decide.
Her daughter, Maya Muniz, 10, said she didn’t know what the long-term effects of the vaccine on her body would be. Maya said that she doesn’t like wearing masks and didn’t understand why she, earlier this year, needed to wear a mask outdoors on campus. District officials said masks are still required to be worn inside the classroom.
“There’s a lot of things that can happen to our bodies and stuff,” said Maya. “I don’t think [the vaccine is] a good idea.”
One passerby objected to the rally, calling for parents to protect their children by vaccinating them when they were able.
Carrie Rivera and Shannon ElyMcGregor both pulled their children out of the district, but said they went to the rally to show their support. Rivera objected to the district’s curriculum and said politics were being brought into classrooms.
Rivera enrolled her two children in the Cloud Campus last year, but transferred them to Cavalry Chapel Christian School this year. ElyMcGregor’s children are currently homeschooled.
“After being exposed to [the curriculum] and hearing a lot of things in the media about what’s going on in public schools, it woke me up,” said Rivera. “There’s been talk about kids getting vaccinated at school and I’m not OK with that. I want more control over my child, so I put my child into a Christian private school because I wanted them to learn more values of God.”
The two agreed it was hard to pull their students out of the district, saying that the public schools are good. But, Rivera said, she didn’t want to be at the mercy of a state school anymore.
District spokeswoman Annette Franco said the vaccines are not currently a requirement of their staff or of their students and there are still unanswered questions that remain. Employees are still able to test weekly for COVID-19 in lieu of being vaccinated. However, the district does not have the authority to mandate vaccinations.
“I understand that there are strong and varying emotions in our community about the potential requirement, but this is not currently a requirement,” said Newport-Mesa Unified Supt. Wesley Smith.
“This also is not something that our school district or Board of Education has the authority to mandate,” Smith said. “However, all school districts are required to abide by state requirements or face substantial legal, financial, and other risks. I appreciate hearing from our community and am hopeful that together we will continue to keep schools open, offering in-person instruction throughout the school year.”
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