Students Who Refuse California's COVID Vaccine Mandate Will Be Moved to Independent Study

Students who refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccine under California's proposed vaccination mandate for schoolchildren will be required to complete an independent study course at home.

Governor Gavin Newsom announced the first coronavirus vaccine mandate on Friday for students in elementary through high school once the vaccines have final approval from the U.S. government for ages 12 to 15.

Once the approval has passed, students will be required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, with a few exemptions. Religious and medical exemptions would be granted, but the state has yet to determine rules for how the exemptions would be applied.

Students who aren't granted an exemption but still refuse to get the vaccine will be forced to complete the independent study course at home, rather than attending physical school.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

School Vaccine Mandate
California Governor Gavin Newsom is requiring students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine once the vaccines receive full approval from the U.S. government. Above, a masked student sits in class at Yung Wing School P.S. 124 on September 27, 2021, in New York City. Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

The government has fully approved the COVID-19 vaccine for those 16 and over but only granted an emergency authorization for anyone 12 to 15. Once federal regulators fully approve it for that group, the state will require students in seventh through 12th grades to get vaccinated in both public and private schools. Newsom said he expects that requirement to be in place by July 1.

California will require the COVID-19 vaccine for students in kindergarten through sixth grades after it gets final federal approval for children 5 to 11.

"We want to end this pandemic. We are all exhausted by it," the Democratic governor told reporters at a San Francisco middle school.

The announcement comes as infections in most of California have dropped markedly in the last month. Newsom has been emboldened after easily defeating a recall effort last month following a campaign where he emphasized his commitment to vaccine mandates to end the pandemic.

In Los Angeles County—the nation's largest, with more than 10 million residents—just 1.7 percent of people tested for the virus have it and daily infections are down by half in the last month, when most kids went back to school.

"These numbers are amazingly low given that 3,000-plus schools are now open countywide," county Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday.

She noted that though the number of outbreaks in schools has increased slightly in recent weeks, the overall number is small and largely related to youth sports.

The state's vaccine mandate for schoolchildren would take effect the semester after the federal government grants final approval. If it comes in January, then the mandate would take effect in July.

Until now, Newsom had left the decision on student vaccine mandates to local school districts, leading to a variety of different orders across some of the state's largest districts. Five districts in California have imposed their own requirements, including Los Angeles, the nation's second-largest school district, which is set to take effect in January.

Newsom's plan does not override those districts' plans, saying school districts can "accelerate" the requirements.

Dr. Peter N. Bretan, president of the California Medical Association, said the organization "strongly supports" the governor's decision.

"This is not a new idea. We already require vaccines against several known deadly diseases before students can enroll in schools," he said. "The Newsom administration is simply extending existing public health protections to cover this new disease, which has caused so much pain and suffering across our state, our nation and the entire globe over the last 18 months."

Newsom has made it a point of pride to be the first in the nation to issue a variety of pandemic-related school mandates.

In August, California became the first state to require all teachers and staff in K-12 public and private schools to get vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing. Newsom also issued a school mask mandate earlier in the summer for indoor classes that applies to all teachers and students.

Gavin Newsom
There will be religious and medical exemptions to the student vaccine mandate, but it's not clear yet how students will apply for them. Above, California Governor Newsom speaks at a news conference in Oakland, California, on September 28, 2021. Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group via AP