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LAUSD to get enough staff vaccines to reopen elementary schools; union talks continue

A woman sits on a chair as a health worker administers a shot.
Registered nurse Cristy Michel administers a COVID-19 vaccination shot last week at a clinic in Chinatown.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles school district will get the COVID-19 vaccines it needs by the end of next week to inoculate staff and reopen its elementary school campuses, state and local officials confirmed Monday morning.

Despite that welcome news, the nation’s second-largest school district hedged on a previously announced target reopening date of April 9, shifting instead to “mid-April” in documents released Monday. An early April timeline would be tight if local officials waited until school district employees achieved maximum immunity, which takes five to six weeks after the first dose of the two vaccines most widely available.

A return to campus also could be significantly delayed by ongoing negotiations with employee unions.

Nonetheless, L.A. schools Supt. Austin Beutner hailed the increase in available doses, praising Gov. Gavin Newsom, who he said has “made vaccinations for school staff a priority from the beginning and is ensuring that’s the reality on the ground in the communities we serve.”

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The plan offers incentives to districts that offer in-person instruction in counties with fewer than 25 new daily coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents.

L.A. Unified is being prioritized for doses because it serves such a high proportion of students from low-income families and with high needs, said a Newsom administration official who requested anonymity because he was not yet authorized to release the information.

Beutner has said the district needs 25,000 doses to reopen elementary schools. That figure would inoculate school staff — such as teachers, administrators, plant managers and food service workers — and necessary off-campus support staff, such as bus drivers. Getting that number of doses quickly had seemed like a long shot — even though school workers became eligible countywide for vaccines as of Monday.

According to numbers available last week, it appeared as though L.A. Unified might get 4,000 vaccine doses during the first of week of March — a sizable figure and a disproportionately large share based on the district’s enrollment of 465,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. But at that weekly pace, an early-April return to campus would have been virtually impossible to achieve.

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Beutner called the promise of 25,000 does a “game changer.” He added that the 25,000 immunizations from the state is in addition to an expected allotment of 8,800 this week and 8,800 next week through the county, which distributes doses of the vaccine among the county’s 80 school systems.

“That commitment aligns with his and my values,” Beutner said, referring to Newsom, in his weekly broadcast, which airs Monday. “Our community serves students and families who’ve been amongst those most impacted by this virus.”

With an increased share of vaccine doses, the issue of reopening would hinge on district logistics — and on talks with United Teachers Los Angeles, the union that represents the district’s teachers, nurses, counselors and librarians. Union leaders oppose a return to campus until infection rates in L.A. County drop to a seven-day average of seven daily infections or fewer per 100,000 residents. That would allow the county to exit the state’s “purple” tier, which signifies the worst level of community spread of the coronavirus infection.

L.A. schools are moving forward with reopening plans that allow time for workers to be fully immunized against COVID-19 — which could result in campuses staying closed for the rest of the academic year.

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Negotiations are scheduled for this week — as is a membership vote seeking an endorsement of the union’s negotiating position.

Adding additional urgency to the talks is a tentative deal between Newsom and the state Legislature that would provide additional funding for school districts that reopen quickly.


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