(Trends Wide) — All eligible students attending public schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the nation’s second-largest, will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before the end of the calendar year, according to the school board voted.
At a special meeting on Thursday, the Los Angeles Unified School Board decided by unanimous vote that a mandate was appropriate based on the sudden rise in the virus caused by the delta variant and data showing lower rates of infection and hospitalization among those who are vaccinated.
The proposal approved Thursday requires all eligible students 12 years of age or older to receive their first doses of the covid-19 vaccine no later than November 21 and be fully vaccinated by December 19. Students who participate in in-person extracurricular activities, including sports, face an earlier deadline, October 3, for a first dose of the vaccine and a second dose no later than October 31.
The district, which includes more than 600,000 students, already requires the vaccine for teachers and staff, requires everyone to wear a mask, and tests all students and staff for infections weekly. Classrooms have also been equipped with improved ventilation systems in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.
Acting Superintendent Megan Reilly estimated that there are about 225,000 students ages 12 and older in the district, of whom about 80,000 are not vaccinated, but said the health department would have the specific numbers.
In its daily update, Los Angeles County Public Health said that more than half of the youth ages 12 to 17 in the county are vaccinated.
The mandate will apply to all vaccine-eligible students who attend school in person and would allow those with “qualified and approved exemptions” to opt out, although the conditions were not specified.
Students who decline the vaccine and do not have exemptions can participate in the Independent Study Program online. About 15,000 students are currently enrolled in the remote learning program, according to board member Tanya Ortiz Franklin.
During the meeting, Reilly framed the vaccination requirement as the best way to ensure that children can reap the benefits of face-to-face learning.
“As the second largest district in the country, with a very diverse student population, we know that the impact and experiences of COVID-19 are varied among our students and our families, and that there are different levels of comfort and discomfort with the vaccine and other security measures related to covid, “Reilly said.
“Along with these truths, our task remains clear: to provide students with the best education possible, which includes the many benefits of face-to-face learning,” he said.
Dr. Richard Pan, state senator, pediatrician and district parent advocated for the measure, pushing for “community immunity” to protect children who are too young to be eligible for the vaccine. He praised LAUSD for “leading the way” and “following the science to ensure that schools are safe.”
While some parents spoke in favor of the mandate, others angrily denounced the proposal.
“We must be the ones who decide for our children, not the district, or anyone else,” admonished mother Carla Franca. “If you want to take your own children to the death camps, do it, but you are not the one who should decide,” he said. “When you have your own kids, you can make your own crazy decisions.”
United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), the union that represents teachers, supports the board’s decision.
“Ultimately, we want our schools to remain open, and the best way to ensure that is to vaccinate as many people as possible who are in our schools,” said Cecily Myart-Cruz, president of the union, in a statement.
“UTLA made this request at the bargaining table, publicly called for this action, and is proud to continue to lead on safety issues in our schools. We urge the district to continue to provide greater access, education, and outreach to facilitate increased immunization in our school communities. “
School board member Nick Melvoin urged the board to support the mandate to return children to a sense of normalcy, limiting the possibility of closing schools to in-person learning again, as some schools have been forced to do in areas with a low vaccination rate.
“It is our morals, ethics, politics, choose a word, it is our responsibility to protect children under the age of 12 who cannot be protected otherwise,” said board member Jackie Goldberg, who spoke in favor of the measure at the meeting, urging all other members to support the proposal as well.
“Political science is not medical science,” added board member George McKenna. “It would be a mistake not to trust medical science at this point, because the alternative is to do nothing.”
LAUSD, which began classes Aug. 16, would be the first major school district in the United States to require COVID-19 vaccinations for its eligible students. A smaller district in Los Angeles County, the Culver City Unified School District, announced in August that it planned to require eligible students to be vaccinated in mid-November.
“We imagine that by the second semester, our middle and high school campuses will be absolutely even safer than they are today,” LAUSD school board member Tanya Ortiz Franklin told Trends Wide’s John Berman Thursday morning. .
LAUSD estimates that at least 150,000 doses will need to be administered, Franklin said, but Los Angeles County has the doses and the capacity to make this effort.
Students who refuse to receive the vaccine but do not have an exemption can enroll in the district’s Independent Study Program, an online resource that already has about 15,000 students who have opted for remote learning for a variety of reasons, he said. Franklin.
The district is “trying to do everything it can to keep our schools safe,” Franklin said, including instituting the use of masks, testing and updating the schools’ air filtration systems.
“Cases are increasing and children are at risk of delta in ways that we did not see last semester,” he said, “and our responsibility to children and our communities is their safety and well-being.”
The health department said that as of Aug. 28, case rates for unvaccinated 12 to 17-year-olds were 424 cases out of 100,000 people compared to 51 cases out of 100,000 of those vaccinated.
There were 7,784 positive tests among students and 1,250 personnel cases in K-12 schools across the county between August 15 and September 7. The vast majority were in facilities in the Los Angeles Unified School District, which tests everyone weekly, the health department said.
The Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine is the only vaccine available in the U.S. licensed for emergency use for children ages 12-15, although the vaccine has received full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA ) for people 16 years of age or older.
But that’s not an issue for the LAUSD school board, Franklin told Trends Wide, saying, “We understand that the benefits far outweigh the risks, so the emergency authorization doesn’t really influence our decision.”
“It’s about access,” he added, “and that we can provide it in this country to our children, and we want to do it as quickly as possible.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki praised the move Thursday, telling Trends Wide: “Good for them.” But he also said it was important that everyone around the students was also vaccinated to protect students under the age of 12 who remain ineligible for vaccines.