SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Thousands took to the California State Capitol steps in Sacramento to protest the new COVID-19 vaccine mandate for students.
Those helping to organize the protest said they, along with other parents across the state, kept their kids home in response to the mandate.
They said they hope to send a message to school administrators and state leaders arguing that there is not enough data out about the vaccine and that the choice to make decisions for their children, including the medical ones, is theirs.
“We aren't going to be forced to force our children to take a vaccine that has only been created under six months,” said Tess Van Dusen one of the local organizers.
“We want this to be a learning experience for our children,” said Amber Faddis, another organizer, “I feel like these days right now, we’re kind of fighting for our freedoms and it’s really important to me to teach my son that you do need to stand up for your liberties.”
Governor Gavin Newsom's office said the regulations will take effect at the start of the following term, either Jan. 1 or July 1. A spokesperson for the governor's office said, based on current projections of vaccine approval for ages 12 and older, the requirement will apply to grades 7-12 starting July 1, 2022.
Parents from across the state came to voice their concerns about the mandate.
"We played hooky from school and we're here and we're just fighting for our rights," said Whitney Jiusti, a parent from Espardo.
Jiusti brought her two youngest kids, ages 5 and 7, from Espardo to take part in the protest on steps of the state Capitol.
Jiusti said her kids have all of the state-mandated vaccines like mumps, measles and rubella but they won't be getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
"I'm not anti-vax at all by any means but I believe if there is a risk, you should have a choice and he's trying to take that choice away from us and I don't appreciate it," Jiusti said.
The mandates alone have Jiusti considering moving her family out of state if that means her kids being able to attend school in-person, unvaccinated.
"I already have signed exemption forms for my kids, I've already taken steps to homeschool my kids but if all else fails, we'll probably be leaving the state of California which is really unfortunate because I was born and raised here," Jiusti said.
Angie Matthews, a parent from Stockton, has two kids under the age of 18 that she pulled out of school to attend the protest with her.
"It should be our choice whether we choose to vaccinate our children and our children to go to school, this is a clear division, and I'm completely against that," Matthews said.
Kim Arellanes, a grandparent from Ventura County, said the protest is more about the broader issue of medical rights.
“It’s not about being anti-vax or pro-vax, or anything like that, it’s about the medical freedom, you cannot take the medical freedom away from us,” Arellanes said.
ABC10 reached out to the governor’s office who gave this statement:
“The state already requires that students are vaccinated against a range of viruses such as measles, mumps, and rubella – there’s no reason why we wouldn’t do the same for COVID-19. This is about protecting our children and school staff and keeping them safely in the classroom. Vaccines work and are how we end the pandemic– full stop. It’s why California leads the country in preventing school closures and has the lowest case rates in the nation.”
A handful of school districts have spoken out ahead of the planned protest, specifically in regard to parents possibly keeping children home from school.
In a letter to parents, Summerville Union High School District said keeping children home from school "would only result in lost learning time for our students." They added that the district has no control over the mandate.
Twin Rivers Unified School District also spoke out in a letter to parents, urging them to keep their kids in school despite the protest.
"Please consider that for 18 long months, the pandemic prevented having our schools open for all students, but now they are back. Please let us continue to educate them, in school and in person," said Superintendent Steve Martinez in the letter. "They do not need to miss school for voices to be heard. If you have strong feelings against vaccination mandates, consider sending an email or video message to the Governor and writing a letter to your elected representatives."
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