LAUSD to loosen COVID-19 protocols next semester

With all staff members and most students 12 and older who will be on campus expected to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus by early January, Los Angeles Unified officials are planning to relax some of the school district’s health-and-safety protocols next semester, including policies regarding who must undergo weekly COVID-19 testing and who can remove their masks outdoors.

Starting next semester, which begins Jan. 11, only unvaccinated students will need to get a baseline COVID-19 test that first week of the new term, plus undergo weekly testing moving forward — a marked departure from the current requirement that all students and staff members, regardless of vaccination status, get tested weekly.

According to a district staff report to the school board on Tuesday, Nov. 16, this change in testing requirement reflects the fact that overall new case rates are continuing to decline while vaccination rates are increasing, and that there is low risk of viral transmission by vaccinated individuals with no symptoms, especially in masked settings.

The change will help reduce classroom disruptions — as fewer students will have to take time out of the school day to get tested, plus the testing would run more quickly — lessen principals’ contact-tracing workload, save the district money by shaving the number of tests administered daily from about 100,000 to 50,000, and give students an incentive to get vaccinated, district staff said.

As for outdoor masking, that policy — which LAUSD requires but isn’t a state mandate — will only apply to schools where fewer than 85% of students are fully vaccinated. That means all high schools, many middle schools and some elementary campuses with high enough vaccination rates can allow students to shed their masks outdoors.

Everyone will still be required to mask up indoors, however, regardless of whether they’ve gotten their COVID-19 shots or if their school has a high vaccination rate.

Vaccine mandates and boosters

Although LAUSD is not currently requiring students ages 5-11 to get vaccinated, officials indicated Tuesday that they have not ruled out an eventual mandate for this age group.

“Just as the District waited several months after (emergency use authorization) approval before mandating the vaccine for students 12 and older, it will allow for time before considering a mandate for 5- to 11-year-olds,” the staff report states.

In terms of booster shots, the district won’t require them, though it will make booster doses available to employees and students 18 and older who want them.

The district will also adopt a “modified quarantine” policy, in line with county guidelines, to allow an unvaccinated student who’s asymptomatic to continue to attend school in person after being identified as a close contact if the exposed student and infected student were both wearing masks at the time of the exposure and the close contact isn’t part of an outbreak situation.

Vaccinated students do not have to quarantine.

District officials offered a note of caution that while they plan to loosen some health-and-safety protocols for now, the reverse could happen, depending on whether local COVID-19 conditions or county guidelines change.

“We hope it continues to be a small group of people that show up with positive tests. We hope we will continue to have more and more students vaccinated, but … we’re going to follow the science and the reality,” board member Jackie Goldberg said. “And if the reality changes, unfortunately, we may have to come back and revisit this.”

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