LOS ANGELES (AP) – The Los Angeles Education Committee voted Thursday to require students 12 and older to be vaccinated against the coronavirus in order to attend classes in person in the country’s second largest school district.
The move makes Los Angeles the largest of a very small number of counties with vaccine needs by far. The nearby town of Culver City introduced a similar policy for its 7,000 students last month.
The Los Angeles Unified School District, which has more than 600,000 mostly Latino students, is already testing all students and employees every week, requires masking both indoors and outdoors, and has employees vaccinated. According to the vaccination schedule, students 12 and older who participate in sports and other extracurricular activities must complete their two-shot sequence by the end of October. Others have until December 19th.
“It’s easy to wait for someone to tell us what to do. LA Unified leads because we have to. Our communities cannot wait, ”said Mónica García, a board member, before the vote.
“This action is not about violating anyone’s rights. This action is about doing our job of providing public schools so that children can come to school and be safe, ”she said.
Los Angeles Unified was one of the last of the country’s largest counties to reopen for teaching last spring. The teachers’ union refused to move for months, citing health concerns.
Almost three-quarters of the district’s student population is Latino and many are poor. Among adults, poor Latinos are vaccinated at a lower rate than the national average.
From mid-July to mid-August, the number of coronavirus cases among children in Los Angeles county rose, but has since declined, said Barbara Ferrer, director of the county’s health department. The postponement coincided with the reopening of many schools with security measures like masking and testing, she said, adding that bringing so many children into the school could lead to more exposures and officials will be watching closely.
Los Angeles Schools Board members overwhelmingly backed the plan, calling it a solid public health measure and a critical step in keeping classrooms open to the personal learning that is so important to students. Board member Jackie Goldberg recalled when polio ripped through her school and her third grade boyfriend lost his arm.
“It’s our moral, ethical, religious, political – choose a word – it’s our responsibility to protect the children under 12 who cannot be protected in any other way,” she said.
Coronavirus vaccines are not yet approved for children under the age of 12.
Under the LA Unified plan, all students 12 and older will be fully vaccinated when they return to class on January 11 after the winter break. 3 and a second dose by October 31st, while other students must receive their first dose by November 21st and a second dose by December 19th at the latest.
Some parents seek to ensure that all eligible students are vaccinated. Lucy Rimalower, who has a kindergarten in the district, said she was relieved that officials are taking steps to protect her son until he is old enough to have his shot, and that also helps keep her parents safe, who are in their 60s and 70s and help her with childcare.
“This feels like, over time, following the precedent of all other vaccines that have helped us create a safer school environment that makes us feel like it’s safe to send our children to school without Get chickenpox, polio, mumps, measles, rubella. “You name it,” she said.
Other parents are against moving and believe that it should be up to the parents, not the board of directors, to decide what is best for their children. They found that the coronavirus was far less deadly for children than it was for older adults.
“We don’t understand why you’re in such a rush,” said Diana Guillen, chairman of the district’s English Learner Advisory Committee, speaking to the board in Spanish. “That decision should be ours, a family decision.”
United Teachers Los Angeles urged the district to provide public education and outreach to families, as well as access to syringes to increase vaccination rates in school communities. The teachers’ union had urged the board to order student vaccinations as soon as teachers needed the vaccinations and welcomed the move on Thursday.
So did the Los Angeles County Department of Health. Between August 15 and September 7, nearly 8,000 student cases and more than 1,200 cases of coronavirus were reported among employees in the county, most of them in Los Angeles Unified, which runs weekly testing, Ferrer said. She said this didn’t mean the infections were spreading through schools, and many were actually occurring elsewhere.
She added that more than half of the county’s residents between the ages of 12 and 17 are already fully vaccinated.
“Increasing these numbers is a critical part of our strategy to keep schools open,” she said. “Widespread vaccination can drastically reduce transmission in all settings, especially and especially in schools.”
Taxin reported from Orange County, California. Associate press writer Jeff Amy in Atlanta contributed to this.