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25th November 2022
California schools cannot mandate vaccines, court rules
An appeals court has now ruled that California school districts have no authority to mandate vaccinations. "The Legislature has mandated that public health officials, not school authorities, determine the diseases for which vaccinations are required," the state's 4th District Court of Appeal in San Diego said this week, rejecting the San Diego Unified School District's attempt to require vaccinations for students 16 and older. San Diego, the state's second-largest school district with more than 121,000 students, proposed in September 2021 to require its older students to be vaccinated against the coronavirus in order to attend classes, sports and other in-person events. Its order would allow exemptions for medical reasons but not for religious or personal objections. Later, the district said it would postpone any mandate until at least July 2023, but by then it was already being challenged in court. Tuesday's ruling was the first on the issue by a state appeals court, and will be binding on lower courts statewide unless it is overturned by the state Supreme Court or contradicted by another appeals court. Other districts seeking to require vaccines have also run into legal hurdles. Piedmont Unified in the East Bay required students 12 and older to show proof of vaccinations by mid-November 2021, one of the first in California to impose a mandate, but withdrew its order two months later after a judge halted enforcement in response to an anti-vaccination group's lawsuit. Oakland and Los Angeles had also planned vaccine mandates in early 2022 but postponed them while also facing potential legal challenges.
Charter schools buoyed by pandemic gains
Charter school enrollment has held firm since soaring in the early days of the pandemic, according to a report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Debbie Veney, one the report’s authors, who believes the pandemic has “spurred parents to become more involved in the way that their kids were being educated,” says the steadying trend shows the initial enrollment jump was not just a fluke. Between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, charter schools saw their enrollment jump more than 7%, an increase of nearly 240,000 students nationwide, at the same time that public school districts lost more than 1.4m students. A year later, enrollment numbers at charter schools fell by just a fraction, according to the report, a decrease of about 1,400 students. In Oklahoma, for example, nearly 22,000 students left charter schools in the most recent school year — more than a quarter of the state’s overall charter school population and over half of the prior year’s enrollment spike. That drop was offset by other states like Florida, where just over 20,000 new students entered the charter system, increasing the state’s charter population by about 6%.
L.A. school board race all but settled
Kelly Gonez and Rocio Rivas have declared victory in their races for seats on the Los Angeles Board of Education, elevating the influence of the teachers' union as the school system navigates contract negotiations, recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and critical funding issues. In District 6, which covers most of the east San Fernando Valley, incumbent school board President Gonez had 51.27% of the vote through Tuesday compared with 48.73% for high school Spanish teacher Marvin Rodriguez. In District 2, which extends outward from downtown and surrounding neighborhoods to the Eastside, Rocio Rivas had 52.48% of the vote compared with 48.71% for Maria Brenes. Brenes conceded on Wednesday, and Rodriguez said this week he would wait to comment until “every vote has been counted.” Based on count updates, it's almost impossible for the winners to shift at this point.
Superintendents need more 'actionable' data
State education leaders should work more closely with local schools superintendents to determine what data they want, and in what format, rather than making assumptions, according to a recent survey issued by the Data Quality Campaign. Almost all (98%) of the 253 superintendents who responded said if they had access to better information, they’d be “more confident in their abilities to make decisions for their district.” Rachel Anderson, vice president at the Data Quality Campaign, says: “I think sometimes there can be an assumption that data is only burdensome, especially at the local level because it takes work to get. But these results showed us it is useful because it’s providing value back to superintendents.” Jesus Jara, superintendent of the Clark County school system, agrees: “If that end-of-year data is coming back in September like it does in for us in Nevada, at that point I’ve already made my decisions for the academic year. We should be relying on formative and summative data that is more actionable for principals and for teachers to make instructional changes more real-time, so we can better help our children.”
Dublin Unified facing union spat
Educators employed within the Dublin Unified School District spoke out at a recent school board meeting against a district policy they claim is "suppressing" teachers' voices. Members of the Dublin Teachers Association appeared to comment mainly about a district-wide code that they claim effectively silences teacher views. But because the meeting was not livestreamed due to a previous district decision, the board voted 4-1 to hold further DTA-related discussions to an upcoming meeting that will feature a livestream. Union members said they have previously filed five unfair practice charges against current Superintendent Chris Funk though, notably, details of which have not yet been revealed publicly.
More students enjoying school meals
The number of middle and high school students who said they would “very likely” and “somewhat likely” eat school meals increased from 61% to 86% between 2021 and 2022, according to survey results released this month by nonprofit No Kid Hungry. The two top motivating factors drawing students to eat a school meal are knowing the food served is something they enjoy and whether meals came at no cost to them. Notably, 64% said they were “much more likely” to eat a school meal if the dish includes food they know they like, while 28% said they were “somewhat likely” to be swayed by that factor. If a school serves free meals, 59% of students said they are “much more likely” to partake, 26% said they were “somewhat more likely,” thogh 12% said “it makes no difference.” The study also underlines the potentially significant influence universal school meal policies can have on school meal uptake. Data released in September by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows food insecurity among households with children dropped by 2.3 percentage points between 2020 and 2021. During that time, universal school meals were available nationwide via a waiver granted by Congress at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Several school safety pilots on the cards in Newport-Mesa Unified
A series of school safety task force meetings organized by the Newport-Mesa Unified concluded this month, with members of that panel having officially established a timeline for the implementation of a plan to shore up safety measures. The first phase, which is already underway, focused on updating existing standard response protocol training and a comprehensive school safety plan, threat assessment training and physical site assessments. In January, district officials will look at some of the recommendations for physical installations to increase security. The third phase will deal with additional training and identifying which of those security measures should be considered. The fourth phase will be implementing projects approved by the board ahead of the start of the following school year. The final phase will see additional standard response protocol training and site-specific lockdown training.

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