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Editorial: Vaccine mandate for schools poses problems

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Corvallis School District Office 06

The Corvallis School District office.

COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, and you and your family members should get the jab for your own safety and the health and economic well-being of your communities and the country in general. But the word “should” is an important distinction.

Venturing into the realm of “must” leaves our editorial board uncomfortable, and especially so regarding schoolchildren.

The Corvallis School District is working with the Oregon Health Authority and other agencies to explore the possibility of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all medically eligible 12-18-year-olds, and we’re against the idea for reasons we’ll explore here in a bit.

Theoretically, Corvallis students wouldn’t be able to attend in-person classes if they weren’t vaccinated or didn’t have an exemption. Classes with the district’s Corvallis Online program would be offered as an alternative.

While determining to investigate this course of action, board members stressed that vaccinations are a key part for keeping schools open, and that’s an admirable goal – a recurring theme in our reporting is that many students said they struggled with online learning during the novel coronavirus pandemic. The more students who are vaccinated, the safer things are for children, the reasoning goes.

Corvallis, to be frank, is the only community in our coverage area where such a mandate could even be considered at this point. Thanks to Oregon State University, the high tech sector of the workforce and other factors, Corvallis may be the most educated and progressive area in the state. There will be protests against the concept of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate in Corvallis schools, but the greater community is likely overwhelmingly in favor of such a move.

If the Greater Albany Public Schools or the Lebanon Community Schools attempted a vaccine requirement for students, the public uproar would be deafening.

Still, a jab mandate for the Corvallis School District would be a distraction. It would face vigorous challenges in court, but we believe the schools would prevail in any civil lawsuit. This is probably within the district’s legal rights, but proving so could be expensive at this point, and that’s one potential drawback.

The COVID-19 vaccines for adolescents and teens also aren’t fully FDA approved right now, and that also complicates matters. To be sure, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other organizations have recommended the COVID-19 vaccines for nearly all individuals age 12 and up. But without the FDA stamp of approval, there is slim chance that Oregon would take any action with its own mandate, and a patchwork of regulations could result throughout the state.

Other districts, such as the Portland Public Schools, also are looking into vaccine requirements, but most schools won’t want to deal with the headaches.

That patchwork in particular opens up a whole can of worms. Would nearby districts welcome a surge of transfers from Corvallis and others with vaccine requirements?

If students are required to have a COVID-19 vaccination to participate in in-person classes and activities in Corvallis, what does that mean for parents of students in the district? Must they be vaccinated to attend events?

What about athletes from other schools? Can a Lebanon Warrior set foot on Crescent Valley High School’s Field of Dreams or play in the outfield at Corvallis High School’s Taylor Field if they’re not vaccinated?

A blanket mandate from the state would eliminate piecemeal regulations and would be a much better solution than districts acting individually, but even then there are questions. For example, what happens in a school or even a classroom where unvaccinated 11-year-olds are mingling with vaccinated 12-year-olds?

But even more than the potential uncertainties and the expenses is our resistance to a mandate for children.

In general, we believe in encouraging people to get the vaccine rather than forcing it upon them, and that’s especially so when it connects directly to an inalienable right. A K-12 public education is defined in the United States as integral to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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