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Pricey Los Angeles private school moves ahead of others for teacher vaccinations

A patient receives the coronavirus vaccine.
A volunteer in a clinical trial receives a dose of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine last year. An L.A. private school has gotten ahead of the curve in vaccinating its teachers.
(Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

The Wesley School, a private academy in North Hollywood, has been able to get COVID-19 vaccinations for its teachers through what an announcement described as a “special program,” despite current Los Angeles County health department rules that say teachers are not yet eligible.

School leaders wrote of their efforts in an email to parents — to reassure them that they were not putting staff at risk as the school gradually expands its in-person services to students.

“Many parents have expressed concern for the well-being of our teachers in these challenging times,” the administration stated in a communication sent out Tuesday. “Therefore, we wanted to share that through a special program for essential workers and educators, all Wesley employees who wanted to be vaccinated were able to take advantage of an offer last week and received their first dose.”

“As you can imagine,” the update continued, “this is incredibly significant for our faculty and staff as we continue with our return to school rollout.”

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Tuition at the school ranges from $28,460 to $32,020 per year, depending on the grade, with a new student fee of $2,000.

The school’s success in obtaining vaccinations appears to contradict the county’s vaccine policy as explained Tuesday by Health Director Barbara Ferrer. In a private briefing to school leaders, she said it would be two to three weeks and perhaps longer before teachers — and other essential workers in their tier of eligibility — could begin to make appointments for immunizations.

Ferrer’s statements on Tuesday are in line with previous comments she has made. Her comments, made in teleconference, also left room for interpretation. Ferrer noted that schools could begin to make arrangements for “closed pods” that would provide for a group of campus personnel to receive individual inoculations all at once — to better coordinate plans for reopening. She added that districts could coordinate for vaccines directly with healthcare providers.

However, Ferrer did not say that making such arrangements would allow schools to push up the starting date for vaccinations. She noted that the shortage of doses remains acute, with vaccines having reached only about 20% of those 65 and older — a group that has been receiving shots for three weeks.

When contacted by The Times on Wednesday, Wesley School issued this statement through Interim Head of School Julie Galles:

“We firmly believe that vaccinating educators is critical to returning students to in-person learning. We were therefore grateful to be contacted by a local hospital in January indicating that it was creating a list of teachers and other essential workers who wished to be vaccinated when the vaccine became available. When the hospital notified us that vaccine was available, some of our teachers scheduled appointments and received the first dose of the vaccine. We strongly urge public health officials to prioritize vaccination for all educators.”

‘Vaccinating 25,000 people will allow us to reopen elementary school classrooms for 250,000 children and help ... family members start on the path to recovery,’ Beutner says.

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Galles later explained that some employees declined to be vaccinated and others were able to schedule appointments through other means because they are 65 or older. She added that Northridge Hospital had provided the vaccines.

A representative from the hospital declined to comment.

When alerted to the situation, the county health department issued a statement, saying, “All sites should be vaccinating healthcare workers and people 65-plus and if they have a significant quantity of expiring doses, they should consult with the Department of Public Health, on how best to ensure no wastage.”

Across the state, the scramble for vaccines has led to confusion and inconsistency. State rules allow allow local health departments to add teachers to the eligibility list but few have done so because of short supply.

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One local exception is the Long Beach health department, which operates independently of L.A. County. Long Beach provided vaccinations to 1,500 of the Long Beach Unified School District’s 12,000 employees about two weeks ago. The Long Beach health department has made available another 400 vaccine appointments so far this week, scheduled for Thursday, said Chris Eftychiou, a school district spokesman.

“The latest round was targeted via email to teachers in transitional kindergarten through second grade,” Eftychiou said.

Long Beach Unified has not yet reopened any campuses for general instruction but hopes to begin reopening in phases in March.

L.A. schools Supt. Austin Beutner said he needs 25,000 vaccinations — for teachers, bus drivers, food-service workers, custodians and other campus employees — to reopen elementary schools for some 250,000 students in the nation’s second-largest school system. Beutner has also said that coronavirus infection rates would have to improve considerably for campuses to reopen.

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The school system has been in a hard shutdown since early December, when coronavirus infection rates spiked to new highs.


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