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Parents use ‘mental health’ day to get kids vaccinated

Just a little more than half the students in the San Diego Unified School District appeared to have taken advantage of a controversial ‘mental health’ day on Friday.

District officials' preliminary numbers show student attendance on Friday at about 48%. Students had the option of going to school or not.

There was plenty of confusion following the district’s original plan to cancel classes for a mental health day and then reversing the decision.


“We made a mistake,” Board of Education president Richard Barrera said. “We will get through this and do a better job going forward in terms of being clear what we can do before sending communications out.”

The original intention behind the day off was to give students, teachers and staff a respite from the stress of pandemic problems.

A vaccine van operated by UC San Diego Health was on site Friday at the Education Center in University Heights in order to help get the district’s message back on track. The mobile unit nursing staff administered COVID-19 booster shots, vaccines for adults, and vaccines for children ages 5 to 18.

UC-San Diego Health COVID-19 vaccination van outside San Diego Unified Education Center, November 12, 2021
Matthew Bowler
UC-San Diego Health COVID-19 vaccination van outside San Diego Unified Education Center, November 12, 2021

Sheila Gray is one parent who welcomed the mental day off. She brought her 10-year-old daughter, Ava, to get a children’s dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Ava is a fifth-grade student at nearby Alice Birney Elementary School.

“I took the day off from work myself,” Gray said, “because I think it’s important to have quality time together and explain to her what we are doing here and why.”


Ava said she was willing to take the vaccine in her left arm because she is right-handed and might be sore.

“I know it kills the virus so I don’t have to get COVID and I can fight it,” she said.

Taking COVID-19 vaccines on the road started at Monroe Clark Middle School in City Heights Wednesday afternoon. In just three hours, medical staff workers were able to vaccinate almost 200 people. District officials hope to keep that momentum going in other under-vaccinated communities. The vaccine van schedule of stops will be updated on the district’sCOVID-19 Vaccine webpage.

"We have a great opportunity now to extend protections to nearly all of our students and staff," Barrera said. “By making COVID vaccines easily available and accessible to all of our students, staff, parents and community members, we will move closer to ending this pandemic, and ensuring that we can keep our kids safely in school."

The vaccine van will offer first- and second-dose shots of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, Johnson & Johnson vaccines, booster shots, and vaccines for children aged 5 to 18. No appointments are necessary, although children under the age of 18 will need a parent or guardian present. The exception is that students at the hosting school can receive a vaccine without a parent present with a signed parental consent form.

The latest vaccine recommendation from the CDC means the vast majority of students in kindergarten through high school are now eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19, signaling a major step toward preventing the spread of the virus in our community and nationwide.

“At this juncture, school-age children remain the highest proportion of those who are unvaccinated,” said district pediatrician Dr. Howard Taras. “Getting them vaccinated is now a community priority. But no parent should think of vaccinating their child as something to do only because it helps the general society. Getting a vaccine benefits each individual child who receives it.”

Under a vaccine mandate approved by the Board of Education, San Diego Unified will require students who are 16 and older and who wish to continue learning in-person to be fully vaccinated at the start of the new semester or quarter.

Parents and children line up for COVID vaccinations, San Diego Unified Education Center, November 12, 2021
Matthew Bowler
Parents and children line up for COVID vaccinations, San Diego Unified Education Center, November 12, 2021

Students ages 5 to 15 are can receive a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the FDA and the CDC. San Diego Unified supports this recommendation, but will not require the COVID-19 vaccination for this student group at this time.

In addition to district resources, families can also for information about getting a vaccine at Rady Children’s Hospital through walk-in and scheduled appointments.

This is the place to find news, information and resources to help you make decisions about the children under your care and support you in this adventure we call "parenting."