The Los Angeles school district is poised to push back enforcement of its Jan. 10 student COVID-19 vaccine mandate, confronted with more than 30,000 students 12 and older who are not fully vaccinated and would otherwise be barred from campus.
Under a proposal from interim Supt. Megan Reilly, enforcement of the January deadline would be suspended until fall of 2022, the start of the next school year.
While the mandate has probably resulted in thousands of students being inoculated — making campuses more protected from outbreaks — the district also was faced with the reality of tens of thousands student being unable to attend class in person under the rules of what may be the strictest student vaccine mandate in the nation. Unvaccinated students would have been placed in an existing independent study program, called City of Angels, that has struggled since the start of the year and would be hard-pressed to manage the sudden and potentially overwhelming influx.
By early this week, it already was too late for students to complete the five-week vaccination cycle. Students 18 and older have the option of completing a two-week vaccination cycle.
The Board of Education will make a final decision on delayed enforcement of the deadline at its Tuesday board meeting. But a Friday morning alert from Reilly suggested that the change of plans is all but official.
In a statement, Reilly chose to focus on the positive — about 86.5 percent of students are in compliance. These students have received at least one shot, obtained a medical exemption or qualified for a deadline extension because of extenuating circumstances.
“Los Angeles Unified applauds the 86.52 percent of students aged 12 and older and their families who are in compliance with the vaccine mandate, and the many other families who are still in the process of adding their vaccine records to the system,” Reilly said. “This is a major milestone, and there’s still more time to get vaccinated!”
The nation’s second-largest school system remains committed to its student vaccine initiative, she said: “The science is clear — vaccinations are an essential part of protection against COVID-19.”
The success of the inoculation effort to date makes it possible to delay enforcement of the vaccination deadline and still maintain safe campuses, officials said.
The change of direction also is expected to affect the district’s coronavirus testing program, which was about to be scaled back for the spring semester.
Under Reilly’s modified plan, L.A. Unified would require baseline testing for all at the start of the spring semester and continue with weekly testing of all students and staff, regardless of vaccination status, through January. Starting in February, only students without proof of vaccination would be required to test regularly.
In continuing the testing, the district is adopting a request of the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles. The union has supported the vaccine mandate both for students and employees.
Nearly 500 school district employees — out of 73,000 — lost their jobs this week as a result of the employee mandate, including seven holding a teaching credential. The district has not yet clarified whether these were classroom teachers, but most unvaccinated classroom teachers have been able to transfer to the independent study program, where those who are unvaccinated — teachers or students — have no in-person contact with others involved in the program.
On behalf of the Board of Education, Reilly has spearheaded the vaccine push and also is managing the current triage. She is soon expected to step back from the top leadership role to make way for Alberto M. Carvalho, who is the school board’s pick as permanent superintendent.
The board voted unanimously on Thursday to begin contract negotiations with Carvalho and hopes he can arrive in Los Angeles in the coming weeks. Since 2008, Carvalho has been the superintendent of the Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
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