School & District Management

Facing Disruption and Firings, L.A. Extends COVID Vaccine Deadline for School Staff

By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times — October 12, 2021 5 min read
In this March 2, 2021, file photo, a sign is displayed at a COVID-19 vaccination site for employees of the Los Angeles School District, LAUSD, in the parking lot of SOFI Stadium in Inglewood, Calif. Public schools have struggled for years with teacher shortages, particularly in math, science, special education and languages. But the pandemic has exacerbated the problem. The stresses of teaching in the COVID-era caused a spike in teacher retirements and resignations. On top of that, schools now have to hire all kinds of additional staff, like tutors and special aides to help kids make up for learning losses, and more teachers to run online school for those not ready to return.
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The Los Angeles Unified School District — confronted with widespread campus disruption and the firing of potentially thousands of unvaccinated teachers and other staff — has extended the looming deadline for all workers to be fully immunized for COVID-19.

The prior deadline of Oct. 15 — this Friday — has been moved to Nov. 15, when employees must have received a second of two-doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, according to a brief district statement. The district did not clearly state a timetable for the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The district declined Monday to provide an updated number or percentage of teachers and other employees who have failed to clear the vaccination requirement. At a Sept. 27 board meeting, officials stated that about 1 in 5 employees, possibly well over 10,000 people, had not yet provided evidence of vaccination. The district also declined to report how many employees have applied for religious or medical exemptions or how many have been approved.

The extension comes as the nation’s second-largest school system has struggled to fill more than 2,000 teaching and other vacancies, including counselors, nurses and maintenance staff. The hiring figures were reported Sept. 27.

Local 99 of the Service Employees International Union, which represents most nonteaching employees, including large numbers of lower-wage workers, pushed for the extension in contract negotiations. The union provided a copy of a “side letter agreement,” dated last Friday, which lays out the basic terms. The agreement is signed by a representative of the union and a representative of L.A. Unified.

The purpose of the extension is “to ensure that workers will have sufficient time to be fully vaccinated,” the union said in a post on its website. The extension will enable staff “to maintain a safe and healthy environment ... and minimize disruption of services as we continue to face the challenges of the pandemic.”

In early August, L.A. Unified announced that all employees must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 15 or they would not be able to work on campus. Because maximum immunity is achieved two weeks after the final dose, the effective deadline for receiving a final shot was actually about Oct. 1.

The August announcement was intended to give an estimated 75,000 employees enough time to reach full immunity on a two-shot regimen. The L.A. Unified requirement was endorsed by the teachers union and some other employee unions. No union openly opposed it.

An employee who has not received a first shot by Oct. 15, will be suspended with pay and not allowed on campus as of Monday, Oct. 18. However, once employees receive a shot — prior to Oct. 31 — they would be able to return to work while they await a second dose, according to the union. Employees who refuse to be vaccinated will lose their jobs, but will be paid at least through October.

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Unvaccinated employees will “not be subject to separation from district service,” as long as they receive a first shot by Oct. 15 and a second shot, if necessary, by Nov. 15.

The district declined to provide information in response to multiple requests to report the number of unvaccinated teachers, whose absence would disrupt the continuity of classroom teaching. The teachers union did not immediately respond for comment.

Local 99 estimates that about 80% of its 21,648 members at L.A. Unified “have a record of vaccination” for at least one dose, spokeswoman Blanca Gallegos said. Its members include food service workers, custodians, bus drivers, special education assistants and thousands of others.

Employees have been eligible to apply — as allowed under law — for a medical or religious exemption. It’s not clear if these exempt employees must work remotely or under other special arrangements. Some teachers with exemptions have been assigned to the City of Angels program, which is providing remote, partly online instruction through a modified form of independent study.

On a separate track, there’s also a student vaccination deadline for those 12 and older. An element of the student deadline also has been somewhat relaxed in interpretation.

When announced, officials said that students must receive their first of two doses no later than Oct. 3 to participate in extracurricular activities, including all sports and clubs. Weeks later, officials stated that Oct. 3 would be a guideline for when students should be immunized, but no students would be barred from activities at that time. Nonetheless, students will need to have submitted documentation of a final dose by Oct. 31.

“After October 31, 2021, your child will not be permitted to participate in in-person extracurricular activities without proof of vaccination if they qualify to receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” the district says in information posted online. The district defines an extracurricular activity as “a program that takes place outside of the instructional day that is supervised or financed by the district where students represent the school/district.”

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Students — whether they are vaccinated — can attend school in person through the end of the fall semester on Dec. 17. To resume in-person instruction in January, all students 12 and older would have to receive a first dose no later than Nov. 21 and a second dose no later than Dec. 19.

Students return to class on Jan. 11. By Jan. 10, proof of vaccination would have to be “uploaded and approved in LAUSD’s Daily Pass program” except for those students with approved exemptions.

The district has declined to provide recent updates on the number or percentage of eligible students who have been vaccinated.

L.A. Unified’s COVID-immunization requirements are stricter than the state’s both for employees and for students.

The vaccination mandate also applies to independently operated charter schools authorized by L.A. Unified — provided that they share a campus with a district-run program. Independent charters that occupy an entire district campus — such as Palisades Charter High School or Birmingham Charter High School are not subject to the district’s vaccination mandate.

All L.A. Unified employees and students — whether vaccinated — will continue mandatory weekly testing for a coronavirus infection.

Copyright (c) 2021, Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

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