Frequently Asked Questions about Vaccine Verification and Testing for Workers in Schools
About the Order
What does the new order require?
On Aug. 11, Dr. Tomás J. Aragón, California’s public health officer, released a public health order requiring all school workers, including paid and unpaid adults serving in a school setting, to provide verification of their vaccination status, and if unvaccinated, to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing.
What is the logic behind the order?
The purpose of the order is to minimize the risk that staff will transmit COVID-19 to others while on K-12 school campuses. The order prioritizes employee safety and protects the ability to provide in-person instruction to children. Fully vaccinated people are less likely to contract COVID-19, much less likely to develop serious symptoms, and are not required to quarantine following close contact unless they have symptoms. Weekly testing provides the opportunity to identify workers who have COVID-19 more quickly.
What are local educational agencies required to do under the order?
Schools must have a plan in place for tracking verified worker vaccination status. Records of vaccination verification must be made available, upon request, to the local health jurisdiction for purposes of case investigation. Schools with workers required to undergo workplace diagnostic screening testing should have a plan in place for tracking test results and conducting workplace contact tracing, and must report results to local public health departments.
What schools do the order apply to?
The order applies to public and private schools serving students in transitional kindergarten through grade 12. It does not apply to home schools, child care facilities/preschool, or to higher education.
Who is considered a worker?
“Worker" refers to all paid and unpaid adults serving in the school settings. Workers include, but are not limited to, certificated and classified staff, analogous staff working in private school settings, and volunteers who are on-site at a school campus.
Does the order requiring K-12 education workers to be vaccinated or test weekly apply to:
- The employees of the YMCA and other entities that provide before- and after-school programs on school campuses?
- Employees of a TK-12 district/school who work in pre-school programs operated by the district/school?
- Licensed child care providers who provide their programs on a school campus, before or after school?
- Employees of the school or district who do not work on a school campus?
- Employees who are assigned to remote work?
- Substitute employees who provide occasional work on a campus?
On a Frequently Asked Questions webpage about the order, the California Department of Public Health has clarified that “the order applies to all school workers, without any explicit limitation based on assigned job sites.” The FAQ gives the specific examples of employees who work at a school bus yard or district staff who work at the central office.
The FAQ also states that the order does not apply to state preschool programs or other early learning and childcare programs if they are located on K-12 campuses.
The San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) has yet to receive an answer from the state as to whether the order applies to employees of the YMCA and other entities that provide before- and after-school programs on school campuses. We will update this FAQ when we receive a response from the California Department of Public Health.
Are employees and volunteers at independent study charter schools that operate "home study" programs (where students aren't on campus) considered “home school”?
If a charter school’s workers do not engage in any in-person work as defined by the order, the school is considered to be a home school and it would be exempt from the requirements of the order. If any of the school’s workers engage in in-person work, the order would apply to all of the school’s workers.
When does the order take effect?
The new policy for school staff took effect on Aug. 12, and schools must be in full compliance by Oct. 15. A summary of the order follows.
Who supports the order?
The state’s press release announcing the new policy includes endorsements from California Teachers Association President E. Toby Boyd, SEIU Local 99 Executive Director and SEIU California Executive Board Member Max Arias, California State PTA President Carol Green, California Federation of Teachers President Jeff Freitas, Association of California School Administrators President Charlie Hoffman, California County Superintendents Educational Services Association President and Alameda County Superintendent of Schools L.K. Monroe, and California Charter Schools Association President and CEO Myrna Castrejón.
About Vaccination Status Verification
What constitutes allowable proof of vaccination?
Under the California Department of Public Health’s Vaccine Record Guidelines & Standards, allowable proof of vaccination are:
- COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card
- Photo of COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card as a document
- Photo of COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card stored on a phone or electronic device
- Documentation of vaccine from a health care provider
- Digital record that includes a QR code that when scanned by a SMART Health Card reader displays to the reader client name, date of birth, vaccine dates and vaccine type
- Documentation of vaccination from other contracted employers who follow these vaccination records guidelines and standards
What constitutes being “fully vaccinated”?
"Fully vaccinated" means individuals who are considered fully vaccinated for COVID-19: two weeks or more after they have received the second dose in a two-dose series (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna or vaccine authorized by the World Health Organization), or two weeks or more after they have received a single-dose vaccine (Johnson and Johnson/Janssen).
What constitutes “Incompletely vaccinated”?
"Incompletely vaccinated” means persons who have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine but do not meet the definition of “fully vaccinated."
What about employees who are not vaccinated or who do not provide one of the allowable vaccination documentations?
Asymptomatic unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated workers are required to undergo diagnostic screening testing at minimum once weekly. There is no exemption for testing.
Can a school employer require that all of their employees become fully vaccinated?
To be clear, the new order does not require that school employees be vaccinated. Employers may require vaccination as a condition of employment, however that is subject to collective bargaining. Employers considering this option should consult with their legal counsel.
Can a school restrict volunteer opportunities on campus to fully vaccinated parents and community members?
Yes. Per guidance found in the California Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 Public Health Guidance for K-12 schools in California, 2021-2022 School Year, schools should limit non-essential visitors, volunteers, and activities involving external groups or organizations who are not fully vaccinated, particularly in areas where there is moderate-to-high COVID-19 community transmission.
About Required COVID-19 Testing
What kinds of COVID-19 tests are allowable under the order?
Testing must be done with an antigen or molecular test. Tests must have Emergency Use Authorization by the Food and Drug Administration or be operating per the Laboratory Developed Test requirements by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
What funding is available to support testing?
Schools may use funds received from multiple sources to address costs associated with employee vaccination verification and COVID-19 diagnostic screening testing, including Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) I, II, and III; Governor's Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER) I and II; and In-Person Instruction Grants (AB 86). Additionally, the California Department of Public Health provides access to subsidized COVID-19 testing for schools through specified partners. The state is also offering a program to schools that provides free antigen tests for use with students and employees. Contact the County of San Diego at COVID-Education@sdcounty.ca.gov for information on how you can enroll.
Are the community testing sites operated by the County of San Diego still available to school employees at no cost?
School employees are welcome to use any of the County of San Diego’s testing sites. The county has recently re-opened several large capacity test sites including one at Cal State San Marcos, San Diego State University, Lemon Grove Senior Center, and will be opening a site at the Border View YMCA on Aug. 15. These are no-appointment, walk-up test sites for anyone in the public and are available at no-cost.
In addition, there are eight state-run testing sites throughout the county, several mobile sites, and testing sites at four public health clinics, all of which have testing available by appointment.
Information about all of these sites is available at http://coronavirus-sd.com.
Can we get a community testing site placed near us to provide the required testing?
No. The County of San Diego selects testing site locations based on community transmission rates.
Are there any no-cost options for employee testing?
The state is offering a program to schools that provides free antigen tests for use with students and employees. Contact the County of San Diego at COVID-Education@sdcounty.ca.gov for information on how you can enroll.
Would a memorandum of understanding (MOU) be helpful in requiring employees to test?
It is always advisable to discuss testing protocol with union leaders and to have an MOU that addresses COVID-19 testing issues, including testing reporting.
Are employers required to keep a record of who has been referred for testing?
According to the state’s Safe Schools for All Technical Assistance Team, evidence of the employee’s negative test result must be collected by the school. The following are acceptable as proof of a negative COVID-19 test result:
- A printed document from the test provider or laboratory, OR
- An electronic test result displayed on a phone or other device from the test provider or laboratory
The person's name, type of test performed, and negative test result should be included on the printed document or electronic test result provided by the employee.
As with any employee medical record, this information should be kept confidential and apart from the employee's personnel file per the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Must local educational agencies allow unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated employees release time to get tested?
By requiring an employee to get a COVID-19 test in accordance with the state order then yes, local educational agencies must allow employees release time to get tested. Release time for testing also includes the time associated with traveling and waiting for the test to be performed.
Can workers be tested through their healthcare provider? If so, are local educational agencies required to provide reimbursement?
Yes. A local educational agency may designate certain locations for employees to obtain testing, including their health care provider. Employers should identify locations for employees to obtain their COVID-19 test to mitigate any potential issues concerning cost.
Can at-home test results be used to comply with the weekly testing required for school employees who do not provide evidence of full vaccination?
In a response to SDCOE, the California Department of Public Health responded that “at-home tests are useful for families to keep themselves and their communities safe, but schools are currently recommended to rely on testing conducted at school or at a medical facility to assess COVID status and return to school from quarantine.”
If an employee refuses to test, what options are available to a district?
The current guidance is clear that employers may send employees to test for COVID-19. If an employee refuses to test, a district may consider other options in the Education Code to address an employee's refusal to test, including actions associated with failing to follow a reasonable directive. Prior to taking any action, districts are strongly advised to consult with legal counsel and consider each matter on a case-by-case basis before taking any action.