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By Collin Breaux | Twitter: @collin_breaux

Opposition to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement for students continued in South Orange County on Monday, Oct. 18, as parents, students, and others marched throughout Downtown San Juan Capistrano to make their voices heard in defiance of the coming mandate.

Hundreds held anti-mandate signs and chanted slogans emphasizing medical freedom as they walked along El Camino Real and other nearby streets. Cars driving by honked in approval.

Some parents and students in Capistrano Unified School District have been gradually speaking against Newsom’s mandate, which requires all California students 12 and older to be fully vaccinated if they want to continue attending classes in person.

Jan Van Leeuwen, a parent with kids in CUSD, was among the demonstrators.

“We think it’s definitely a little premature, with respect to the vaccination—especially young kids, being the COVID sickness rate is so low versus different age groups and whatnot,” Leeuwen said. “We’re doing our best to protect what we think is best for our kids.”

The demonstration coincided with a planned statewide sit-out protest on Monday that circulated on social media, in which students would either stay home or walk out of campus in protest of the mandate.

Officials from San Clemente High School and San Juan Hills High School said there were minimal levels of students who sat out Monday. Exact attendance figures were not available as of this post.

Leeuwen said he hadn’t yet decided if he would keep his kids out of school or homeschool them if the mandate goes into effect.

“We don’t want to have to get to that point because, even after COVID and being homeschooled for that period of time, our kids definitely appreciate the benefits of public education,” Leeuwen said. “They want to be in school.”

The mandate will go into effect once the Food and Drug Administration fully approves the vaccine, which could happen some time next year. Students will have to go into independent study if they are not fully vaccinated.

Heidi Fouret, who teaches at Fallbrook High School and took the day off for the sick out, said the demonstration was intended to “bring enlightenment” to the government and stop mandates in California.

“I believe strongly in this, and I have all family members who support this—friends, nephews,” said Fouret, who has family but not children in CUSD. “We are in strong support of our choice, our protection, our choice for our children, my choice for my body.”

Aliso Niguel High School student Jaduin Fox, 15, attended the demonstration because he feels unvaccinated students have to wait a long time to get back in sports compared to their vaccinated peers, which he feels is discriminatory and forces vaccinations.

“I thought it was great so many people came out to support the cause, and to help people be able to have their freedoms and have their choices,” Fox said of the demonstration.

A further demonstration is scheduled to happen at 6 p.m. on Wednesday outside the CUSD offices before the Board of Trustees meet. A request from Trustees Martha McNicholas and Gila Jones for Newsom to reconsider or rescind the mandate—due to potential effects on in-person student instruction—is on the meeting agenda for potential board approval.

CUSD staff and trustees have previously emphasized they must follow state health guidelines. Medical experts have generally said the vaccine is safe and helps prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Collin Breaux

Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at cbreaux@picketfencemedia.com

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