Photo Credit: Asia Ryan/The Mesa Press
A California statewide school sit-out took place on Oct. 18 to call out and oppose mask and vaccine mandates within the San Diego Unified School District.
Chants of “let them breathe” and “let them choose” echoed through Balboa Park, as dozens of San Diegans stood together in solidarity against SDUSD’s upcoming mask and vaccine mandate. According to a news release from the SDUSD, their staff and students ages 16 and up must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to participate in on-site education. If students choose not to get vaccinated, an alternative education program will be provided for them, and staff will lose their jobs. Students and staff that are currently unvaccinated must receive their first COVID-19 shot by Nov. 29 and must be fully vaccinated by Dec. 1.
Sharon McKeeman, founder of Let Them Breathe, a non-profit organization “concerned about the detrimental effects of masks on their children’s mental, physical, emotional, and social health,” led the anti-mask and vaccine rally, sharing her stance on why families and children should have freedom of choice in wearing a mask, and receiving the vaccine. “I am not up here as a medical expert, and these kiddos are obviously not medical experts, but you know what we’re all experts on, our own opinions, our own choices, our own convictions, and beliefs,” she said. “We are absolutely the best experts to speak on our own freedoms and our own choices.” The Let them Breathe initiative has filed a lawsuit against California State officials and agencies to end mask mandates.
Alongside the Let them Breathe movement, another initiative was started by the same organization, Let them Choose. The Let Them Choose initiative is against the mandate that will force San Diegans to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in order to attend schools or maintain their employment. This initiative is concerned about having the right and freedom to choose if one wants the vaccine or not. “If SDUSD or the state pass a vaccine mandate, ‘Let them Choose’ will immediately pursue every legal action within our power including a lawsuit,” says McKeeman in a GoFundMe page for this initiative.
A large part of McKeeman’s focus was on the kids and the ways their lives will be affected if they don’t comply with the new mandate. “Something that I have shared all over is that any child that is here today smiling, is a miracle at this point,” McKeeman said through tears. “Because any kid that is still smiling after the past year and a half…after having their smiles covered up, you are precious and we appreciate you, and we are here to help you keep smiling.”
The crowd gathering around McKeeman consisted of students, parents, educators, healthcare workers, and citizens that shared the same concerns. Maja Markovic, an unvaccinated, registered nurse working for the SDUSD, opened up about the pressures of being unvaccinated in her work environment. “You feel the pressure from your supervisors and managers, and you don’t have the freedom to speak about your opinion about that. There’s no open communication between people,” she said. “We need to stand up now because they are just crossing the line, they cannot vaccinate our kids, it’s something that we don’t know exactly what it is…We are fighting for health freedom, to choose what we are putting in our bodies. It’s protecting our human rights…”
Wendy Scott, an English professor at Mesa College attended the rally and shared her concerns for students and for the constitution. When asked if she was vaccinated she said, “That’s not the issue, whether I’m vaccinated or not unvaccinated, I’m for the choice. And that’s why I really want to stand up for the choice…They’re coming after the kids, and the kids suffer terribly with these vaccines, it’s like they’re whitewashing it. I believe everyone should choose, that’s what the constitution stands for and nobody’s paying attention to it anymore, but I care.”
Jessica Delgado, a parent and supporter of the Let Them Breathe movement, claims that her family is not typically anti-vax, but her skepticism about the infancy of the vaccine has kept her from becoming vaccinated against COVID-19. “First of all, it hasn’t been around very long, [COVID-19 vaccine] and we don’t know what it’s going to do to our kids’ bodies,” she said. We’ve already seen side effects that other people have gone through that we don’t want to deal with for our kids. Our kids already have such a small chance of getting COVID-19 or having any adverse reactions to COVID-19, some of them don’t even have symptoms, so we don’t want to put something into their body when it’s not even necessary.”
Zulaika Vargas, a Rehab Specialist at the Resource Center for SDUSD, reiterated a common concern shared amongst the crowd at the rally. After working for SDUSD for 18 years, her job is on the line unless she chooses to get vaccinated before the deadline. “There are a handful of individuals here that are probably going to be affected by this. I feel like someone shouldn’t have to tell us if we should be vaccinated or not. So for me, I just feel like if there’s a freedom of choice for other things that are going on in the United States, then I also think we should preserve the freedom for what we put in our bodies.”
“Smiles are so important. I can see your faces, I can see your smiles, I can see tears, that’s so important,” McKeeman said. “That’s how Let Them Breathe started. Advocating for mask choice. We’re not against masks, we’re not against the vaccine, we’re for choice.”
When it comes to San Diego Mesa College and the district, all employees are required to receive the first dose of a two-dose vaccine by Nov. 1 and receive the second dose of a two-dose vaccine or a single dose vaccine by Dec. 1 and upload a completed vaccination record into PeopleSoft by Dec. 1. The record must show your name and the dates of each vaccine dose received. According to an email from Gregory Smith, the vice-chancellor of Human Resources, “Employees who fail to upload a completed vaccination record by Dec. 1 or have an approved exemption will be subject to discipline for failure to comply with a district policy. Employees will be provided due process in accordance with the applicable collective bargaining agreement and district policies.”