(Trends Wide) — Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) officials said they want to ensure children attend face-to-face classes, not virtual ones, so they voted to require COVID-19 vaccinations for all eligible students in a move that was praised by the teachers union and many parents.
“Ultimately, we want our schools to stay open, and the best way to ensure that is to vaccinate as many people as possible in our schools,” said Cecily Myart-Cruz, president of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), the union representing teachers.
It was a sentiment echoed by many parents, as experts warn of the risk it poses to schools amid the rise in the delta variant. Since the start of classes across the United States, tens of thousands of students have had to self-quarantine due to exposure to COVID-19.
“Our goal is to protect children, and our goal is to have children in school and not online,” LAUSD Acting Superintendent Megan Reilly told Trends Wide Thursday.
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. For those under 12, a vaccine could still be months away, and COVID-19 hospitalizations among teens are nearing their peak since the pandemic began.
Pan 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,” warned mother Carla Franca. “If you want to take your own children to the death camps, do it, but it is not you who should decide,” he said. “When you have your own kids, you can make your own crazy decisions.”
The school board vote was unanimous Thursday. Children who participate in sports and extracurricular activities must be vaccinated “within October,” while the rest of the students must receive their first and second doses no later than November and December, Reilly said.
Winter break will give students time to achieve full immunity, he added.
Board chair Kelly Gonez told Trends Wide that as a mother of two young children, she understands how some parents may have concerns about vaccination, but cited health officials and real-world evidence that the decision is sound. .
“We know that millions of Americans have been vaccinated, including young people, and almost none have had adverse reactions. And the protection it offers from covid is significant, so we believe the benefits significantly outweigh the risks of the covid vaccine for all of our people. students, “he said.
The mandate comes as President Joe Biden outlined a plan Thursday that imposes tough new rules on vaccines on federal workers, large employers and healthcare personnel.
Increase in cases among children
The increase in cases in the US has included an alarming increase among children.
Data from the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that 251,781 childhood cases of Covid-19 were reported between August 26 and September 2. That number represents more than a quarter of the total 939,470 cases that were reported that week.
However, the effectiveness of preventive measures, such as masks and vaccines, has been seen in San Francisco, where about 90% of children ages 12 to 17 are vaccinated, according to the city’s Department of Public Health. So far this year, no coronavirus outbreak has started on the city’s school campuses, SFDPH said.
“Alleged transmissions within the school have been so low that they cannot be publicly reported without concern for privacy and confidentiality,” SFDPH said. “All other reported cases in schools were related to community transmission outside of school as of September 8.”
The Los Angeles mandate will apply to all vaccine eligible students who attend school in person and would allow those with “qualified and approved exemptions” to choose to participate in an independent learning program.
Those exemptions would be primarily medical, and religious exemptions would be decided on a case-by-case basis, Los Angeles School Board member Jackie Goldberg told Trends Wide.
“In this way we create the safest environment possible for those eligible to be vaccinated to learn,” said Reilly, who noted that it also makes the environment safer for younger children who are not yet eligible for vaccines. “They are safer around adults and others who are vaccinated,” he said.
80,000 unvaccinated students 12 years and older
LAUSD, which started school on Aug. 16, would be the first major school district 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 Thursday morning.
Reilly estimated that there are about 225,000 students 12 and older in the district, of whom about 80,000 are not vaccinated, but said the health department would have the specific numbers.
The district, which includes more than 600,000 students, already requires the vaccine for teachers and staff, requires everyone to cover their faces and screen 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.
As many schools opened with those measures, cases in all age groups of children in the area dropped by about 30%, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said in a news release.
As of Sunday, 62% of Los Angeles County children ages 12 to 15 received at least one dose of the vaccine and 51% were fully vaccinated, according to the statement.
Trends Wide’s Jessica Firger, Dakin Andone, Stella Chan, and Cheri Mossburg contributed to this report.