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L.A. Unified will get 40% of school staff vaccine doses in effort to target neediest areas

A Los Angeles substitute teacher receives a coronavirus vaccine.
Substitute teacher Jane Golliver, 67, receives her COVID-19 vaccination last week from Mary Ann Topico in a pilot clinic at Roybal Learning Center in L.A. that provided 100 doses.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Forty percent of coronavirus vaccines available for school staff in Los Angeles County will go to the L.A. Unified School District through a new distribution formula designed to help reopen campuses sooner in areas hit hardest by the pandemic and student learning loss.

Although that 40% share is comparatively generous, it falls well short of what officials say they would need to reopen elementary classrooms by early April.

Details about the vaccine distribution were provided in a news conference with county officials and by the L.A. County Office of Education as the state prepares to allocate about 10% of available doses to the education sector starting March 1.

L.A. Unified enrolls about one-third of the county’s public school students in kindergarten through 12th grade, but student numbers are not all that matter. The district’s share also derives from a formula that accounts for poverty and the prevalence of COVID-19 in the communities it serves, said county education office Supt. Debra Duardo.

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“My priority is to ensure that resources are directed through an equity lens to support student and staff safety on campus so that we can focus on recovering from the academic and social-emotional challenges created by COVID-19,” said Duardo, whose agency provides support and oversight for the county’s 80 school districts.

County officials did not release information Wednesday about allocations to other school districts.

The number of doses available next week is expected to be announced Thursday, but based on last week’s allotment, there would be about 10,000 doses available per week countywide for the education sector, according to the state health department. There are about 691,000 education-sector workers in L.A. County, according to the county Department of Public Health. That figure includes workers in childcare, private schools and higher education.

The number of doses sent to L.A. County is expected to increase in the coming weeks.

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The new vaccine distribution formula divides the school systems into five groups, each representing about 20% of public school students. L.A. Unified, the second largest school district in the nation with 465,000 students, counts for two zones all by itself. Beside equity factors, doses also are allotted based the number of school employees already providing services in person.

By that last metric, L.A. Unified does not fare well. No students will receive in-person services until March 4, when fewer than 1% are expected to return initially. But the school system receives additional doses based on the 80% of students who qualify for a free or reduced-price school lunch — a standard marker for family poverty. And the pandemic’s toll in some parts of L.A. Unified has been among the worst in the nation.

Every school district will receive some doses every week.

For L.A. Unified parents, the fundamental question remains: How soon will these vaccinations lead to classes on campus?

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For about 250,000 students in kindergarten through 6th grade, the answer is uncertain.

On Tuesday, district officials spoke of a target reopening date of about April 9. But to achieve that, said Supt. Austin Beutner, some 25,000 employees would need their first of two doses by the end of next week. These employees would include teachers, aides, campus clerical staff, administrators, custodians, food-service workers and bus drivers. Reaching maximum immunity takes five to six weeks after the first dose.

Health authorities have cleared elementary schools to open regardless of the vaccine status of employees. And a fair number have done so. But in key large, urban districts in California, employee unions are demanding vaccines prior to a full-scale return.

Private schools employees would account for about 9% of the weekly allotment of K-12 doses — because officials estimate they enroll about 9% of students. Workers at these schools would have access to appointments on Sundays. Child-care workers would have times set aside on Saturdays and on other days at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, said county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.

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“As part of this work, we are encouraging districts to prioritize staff who are already serving students at school sites in an effort to reduce the possibility of serious illness for those highest at risk,” Ferrer said.

Most school districts have created partnerships with certified providers that will receive and administer the vaccines. Three school districts (Culver City Unified, Glendora Unified and Los Angeles Unified) will manage their own vaccine clinics.


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