LAUSD set to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for eligible students

The Los Angeles Unified School District is set to become the largest K-12 public education system in the nation to require eligible students get vaccinated against the coronavirus — though pushback from some parents is bound to happen.

The Board of Education will hold a special meeting on Thursday, Sept. 9, to vote on and likely adopt a proposed COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all students who are at least 12 years old and attend in-person instruction. If the item passes, LAUSD would join Culver City Unified School District as the only two in Los Angeles County to require COVID-19 inoculations for students, though others are also considering it.

LAUSD has a legal obligation to “ensure the health and safety of all students within its schools and facilities,” the proposed resolution says, and to “deliver the highest-quality education in the safest environment possible.”

The mandate would require students without a valid vaccine exemption to meet the following deadlines:

  • Students 12 and older who participate in in-person extracurricular programs must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 31.
  • All students 12 and older must be fully vaccinated by Dec. 19.
  • All other students must receive their first vaccine dose within 30 days after their 12th birthday and their second dose no later than eight weeks after their 12th birthday.

Students would also have to provide proof of vaccination by uploading the information to the district’s Daily Pass web app before the next semester begins in order to access LAUSD school facilities.

The mandate would also apply to students attending charter schools co-located on a district campus.

The proposed resolution is expected to pass, with at least four of the seven board members having indicated their intentions to vote for it.

Board President Kelly Gonez and board member Tanya Ortiz Franklin, in text and email messages, said they support the student mandate. Board member Monica García backed the requirement.

“As usual, I am supportive of all actions to support learning and wellness,” Garcia said, “including mandating vaccinations for eligible students, and to help us keep schools open in L.A. Unified.”

The goal, board Vice President Nick Melvoin said in a statement, is to keep students and teachers safe and in the classroom.

“A medical and scientific consensus has emerged that the best way to protect everyone in our schools and communities is for all those who are eligible to get vaccinated,” he said. “This policy is the best way to make that happen.”

A fifth board member, Scott Schmerelson appeared willing to entertain the proposal.

“This requirement is worth considering,” he said, “and is consistent with other vaccination requirements that schools have mandated for decades as accepted public health policy.”

Vaccinating students has been a flashpoint in pandemic discussions nationwide, with Americans generally split.

A recent poll by The Associated Press, in conjunction with the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, found that 55% of Americans support a vaccination requirement for students 12 and older.

But among parents, that support was much lower — 42%.

The only COVID-19 vaccine that has received full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is the Pfizer one. Currently, its vaccine can be administered to children ages 12 to 15 under an emergency use authorization, though the company has said it hopes to gain full approval for this age group in the near future.

Locally, parents appeared divided over the mandate as well.

One LAUSD parent from San Fernando Valley, who requested anonymity because she feared backlash from LAUSD, said that while the proposed mandate won’t immediately apply to her children, who are 7 and 9 years old, she worries the policy will eventually be amended to include elementary-age children.

Students must get certain vaccines already, such as one to protect against measles, mumps and rubella. But, the mother of two said, the difference this time is that the COVID-19 vaccine is still relatively new and only authorized for emergency use for children under 16.

She’s concerned about potential long-term consequences for children who are still developing physically.

“It’s like they’re trying to parent our children and step in as the medical director for the household,” she said. “They’re definitely overreaching.”

To parent Becky Cunningham, though, getting the shots and creating herd immunity is a no brainer. Her daughter, a ninth grader at Venice High, is vaccinated.

“This is something you do as a collective unit,” Cunningham said, “in order to protect each other. It’s not just about yourself.”

“For all of our talk as Americans about how we come together, this is possibly the most patriotic thing we can do,” she added. “Definitely the best thing we can do for Angelenos and to be part of this greater community. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be teaching our kids — so that they can go be great citizens of this world?”

United Teachers Los Angeles, meanwhile, also supports the vaccine mandate for students.

“With so many educators being parents as well, we understand that many questions and concerns exist around the vaccine,” President Cecily Myart-Cruz said in a statement, “but these questions should not take away from the critical step that will keep our schools safer and help protect the most vulnerable among us, including children too young to be vaccinated.”

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