About 200 people, united by their opposition to California’s COVID vaccine mandates for teachers, students and healthcare workers, gathered outside of Dill’s Deli in Redding last Wednesday evening.

Speakers included a nurse, several educators, a Recall Shasta leader, and an Anderson City Council member. Several called for parents to keep their children home from school on October 18, the first school day after mandatory vaccines or testing for all California teachers goes into effect.

A separate student vaccine mandate, which was announced earlier this month, will not affect students for some time. Students will be required to be vaccinated only after full FDA approval of vaccines for children ages 12 and up Once that approval is in place, students will have until the beginning of the next semester to be vaccinated. Based on current information, the requirement is expected to apply to grades 7-12 starting in July 2022.

As with other required vaccines for California school children, exemptions for medical reasons will be allowed. It’s not yet clear whether the new COVID vaccine mandate for students will allow exemptions for personal or religious reasons. Once student mandates take effect, students who are not exempt and not vaccinated will be required to enroll in independent study.

California teacher unions are among many who have voiced support for COVID vaccine mandates for both students and teachers. The head of the California Teachers Association (CTA), the union which represents many Shasta County teachers, has said an overwhelming majority of CTA members support vaccine mandates for students and staff. Nationwide, a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows parents are becoming more comfortable with vaccinating children.

But in Shasta County, Newsom’s announcement of student vaccine mandates appears to have renewed community opposition to COVID restrictions.

Melissa Hunt, an Anderson City Council member, who spoke at Wednesday’s event encouraged attendees, “Don’t give up. Stand strong, stand together, and keep pushing.”

John Paul Cappalonga, a sign language teacher employed by Foothill High School, told the crowd he will not submit to COVID testing and will not vaccinate. (Educators are currently allowed to test for COVID as an alternative to being vaccinated, but the testing option for teachers will disappear when student vaccine mandates take effect.)  Cappalonga said statements that have been made by school board members indicate the board is motivated not by science but by the fear of liability and by finances tied to daily attendance. “Which is why,” Cappalonga said, “if your kids are not in school, [schools are] going to be forced to do something.”

Oak Run Elementary School’s Chief Business Officer, Tiffany Fulkerson, also spoke at the event. Oak Run is a rural Shasta County school of about 65 students, and eleven staff, located approximately 20 miles northeast of Redding. KRCR reported last week that Oak Run had sent an email to parents saying there would be no school Monday, October 18, as part of a nationwide movement of “peaceful noncompliance” with COVID vaccine mandates.

Fulkerson said at Wednesday’s gathering that parents may need to hold their children out of school for longer than two weeks but that doing so would eventually create change. Saying she was risking her job to speak out, Fulkerson called on parents to continue to hold their children home from school until vaccine mandates are dropped. Currently, there no COVID vaccine requirement for California’s school children, as the FDA has not yet granted full approval for vaccines for ages 12 and up.

Elissa McEuen, a leader of the grassroots organization Recall Shasta, gave a fiery speech at Wednesday’s event, calling on locals to stop watching Netflix and “activate.” Recall Shasta has worked to remove three sitting members of the Board of Supervisors based largely on their adherence to state COVID policies. Recall advocates hope to elect a majority of BOS members who would be willing to oppose mandates from the state. They recently failed to obtain enough signatures to attempt to recall Supervisors Mary Rickert and Joe Chimenti, but have submitted more than 6,000 signatures to recall Supervisor Leonard Moty. Those signatures are still under review.

McEuen used Wednesday‘s’ event to renew calls for the firing of Shasta County’s Public Health Director, saying “Dr. Karen Ramstrom is walking right in line with the state. She does not care about your health or your children’s health, she cares about doing what Governor Newsom tells her to do.” 

Ramstrom has been a frequent target of COVID mandate opposition. In 2020, her address was publicized as part of public comments during a BOS meeting, and threats against her safety led to increased police surveillance near her home.

In Shasta County, opponents of COVID restrictions, including masks and vaccine laws, have organized around the idea that COVID-19 mandates pose a central risk to freedom. Using phrases like “do not comply,” “tyrannical overreach,” and “your freedom hangs in the balance,” activists have, at times, compared COVID-19 restrictions to those in Nazi Germany. Referring to themselves as “We the People,” a small subset of the 140,000 people in Shasta County has repeatedly told local government, including health officials, that they are acting illegally and in opposition to the Constitution by following state COVID mandates.

While Recall Shasta’s website clearly states that the organization does not condone violence or threats of violence, some vocal opponents to COVID restrictions, including those who organize with Recall Shasta, have ties to a local self-described “militia.” And public speeches regarding COVID vaccine mandates have at times referenced violence.

Carlos Zapata, who is a leader in the local recall movement and part of a local self-described “militia” was just found not guilty of battery in a high-profile case involving an attack on a local chef, satirist, and BLM activist at his place of work. Zapata was found guilty of disturbing the peace.

A digital flyer for the United The Fight event scheduled for Monday, October 11.

Organizers of Wednesday’s meeting have planned another gathering for Monday evening, October 11, at the Sundial Amphitheater.  The event was originally scheduled to be held at a Crosspointe church, but was moved to a larger venue due to strong community interest, according to a social media post by organizers.  

A digital flyer for the event uses the slogan “Unite the Fight,” and indicates that organizers include “Recall Shasta, Healthcare Workers for Medical Freedom, Educators for Medical Freedom, and other local liberty groups.”

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