Press Release

PHI Supports California Bill to Keep Schools Open and Safe

Senator Dr. Richard Pan has introduced the Keep Schools Open and Safe Act, supported by PHI, to close the personal belief exemption loophole for school-based vaccination requirements for COVID-19. Dr. Lynn Silver of PHI’s Safely Opening Schools program comments on the need for vaccinations for the safety of students and the school community.

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Brandie Campbell

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Dr. Richard Pan Introduces Measure to Keep Schools Open and Safe

Bill Would Close Personal Exemption Loophole for COVID-19 School Vaccinations, Builds on Success of SB 277 Law

SACRAMENTO – Today, Senator Dr. Richard Pan introduced the Keep Schools Open and Safe Act, to close the personal belief exemption loophole for school-based vaccination requirements for COVID-19.

The Keep Schools Open and Safe Act builds on SB 277, also sponsored by Dr. Pan, which eliminated the personal belief exemption loophole for all other childhood vaccinations required for public and private school students when it became law in 2015. After passage of SB 277, vaccination rates dramatically increased for childhood diseases such as measles.

Governor Gavin Newsom has announced a statewide school vaccination mandate, but under state law, only the Legislature may remove the personal belief exemption.

Dr. Richard Pan, state senator and pediatrician said, “As the parent of two school students, I understand parents need confidence and certainty that their child’s school is safe and can be in-person. The most effective way to keep schools open and safe is to ensure the COVID vaccination rate of students and school staff is as high as possible in addition to masks, testing, and good ventilation to minimize infections. My legislation will give parents great certainty that their child is unlikely to get seriously sick and their school will stay open during COVID.”

On January 19, Dr. Pan and six other legislators announced the formation of a legislative Vaccine Work Group to facilitate coordinated action to promote vaccines and science-based public health policy.

Dr. Pan announced the new legislation today at a press conference at Arleta High School in Los Angeles.  He was joined at the press conference by the following bill supporters:

  • Los Angeles Unified Board President Kelly Gonez
  • Los Angeles Unified Interim Superintendent Megan K. Reilly
  • San Diego Unified Board Member Richard Barrera
  • California Medical Association President Robert E. Wailes, M.D.

Wendy Bloom, RN, Organizing Director at ProtectUS said, “On behalf of the parents, grandparents, students and workers that make up the Pro-Vaccine Majority, we applaud Dr. Pan for once again leading the way to make our communities safe and healthy. I have been a Registered Nurse working at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland for the last 35 years. The Keep Schools Open and Safe Act is necessary to protect these at-risk students and allow them to attend in-person learning. All students deserve equal access to quality education regardless of their health status. Only through high vaccination rates will it be safe for my patients to attend school.”

“Keeping our students and employees as safe as possible has been a top priority for Los Angeles Unified during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Los Angeles Unified Board President Kelly Gonez and Interim Superintendent Megan K. Reilly said. “We have maintained continuity of instruction while establishing the largest school-based COVID-19 testing program and keeping more than 1,400 schools open since August 16, our first day of school. The science is clear – vaccinations are an essential part of protection against COVID-19. Los Angeles Unified applauds the nearly 90 percent of our students aged 12 and older and their families who are in compliance with our vaccine requirement. Senator Pan’s bill will support widespread student vaccination and ensure local educational agencies across the state can safely and effectively navigate the pandemic. A statewide vaccine mandate will promote uniform health and safety protocols and is aligned with the intent of other existing vaccination statutes.”

Richard Barrera, a member of the San Diego Unified School District Board of Education said, “Local school districts are doing everything we can to keep our schools safe so that students can continue to learn in person. Our educators and staff are vaccinated. We are making vaccines easily available and accessible to our students. We welcome this necessary legislation by our state leaders to help end the roller coaster of the pandemic and allow schools to go back to focusing on what we do best – educating our students.”

California Medical Association President Robert E. Wailes, M.D. said, “As COVID cases and hospitalizations of children are rising due to more infectious variants, we know that vaccination is our greatest defense.  Too many children are not yet fully vaccinated and are left vulnerable to this serious disease. California needs policies to minimize the threat of COVID-19 to children, and the California Medical Association appreciates the leadership of Dr. Richard Pan for working to protect children’s health and their right to safe schools.”

Lynn Silver, MD, MPH, Director of Safely Opening Schools at the Public Health Institute said, “Having everyone in the school community fully vaccinated is essential to making our schools safe for all. This bill is urgently needed so schools can go back full-time to what they do best – educating our children.”

Teens for Vaccines founder Arin Parsa said, “Requiring immunization against COVID-19 is how we keep schools open and safe. While closing schools at the beginning of the pandemic was necessary, we now have safe and highly effective vaccines. LAUSD and SDUSD prove that mandates work, that high vaccination rates keep schools open and safe. Teens for Vaccines is excited to support the Keep Schools Open and Safe Act.”

Alvin Lee, Executive Director of GENup said, “Since the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, student learning has been widely disrupted across the state. Not only have our students suffered physically, but also mentally and emotionally. We’ve seen virtual learning exacerbate those inequities – whether it’s access to mental health resources or unequal access to technological connectivity. Despite recent returns back to in person schooling, surging COVID-19 cases are threatening schools once again back to virtual learning. As such, ensuring every student is vaccinated will be critical if we are to return to a sense of normalcy in our nation’s largest education system. The data is clear: vaccines work! As such, we urge legislators to pass the Keep Schools Open and Safe Act to protect our state’s 6 million students and to put student wellbeing and safety first.”

Watch the press conference:


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