LAUSD rolls out student vaccines to prep for fall and in-person graduations in June
The Los Angeles school district is launching an ambitious campaign to vaccinate students 12 and older before the end of the current school year, which will conclude for the class of 2021 with in-person graduation ceremonies, Supt. Austin Beutner announced Monday.
The goal for the vaccinations is to reach eligible students — at some 250 campuses — before they leave for the summer. And for graduating seniors, in-person ceremonies with strict safety protocols are aimed at restoring a sense of normalcy before students leave their high school experience forever.
Although high school campuses have reopened, the vast majority of high school students have remained in distance learning for more than a year.
“Plans are coming together for each school to hold a safe, socially distanced, outdoor graduation ceremony,” Beutner said in his morning broadcast. “This is an important part of any child’s journey. For high school seniors, graduation reflects a lifetime of hard work and provides a chance to recognize athletes, scholars, artists and others who have accomplished many great things. It’s also a time to celebrate the culminations and great work of students in all grades.”
Later Monday, during an appearance at Wilson High School in El Sereno, Beutner said that details were being worked out school by school.
If the vaccination effort is successful, it will help to pave the way for a fall semester in which as many children as possible will have maximum protection from COVID-19, said Beutner, who sees the effort as both a major public health measure and a confidence builder that will persuade more families to return to campus.
“No other organization has such a deep relationship with that many children,” Beutner said in remarks prepared for his weekly Monday broadcast. “Schools are trusted partners with the families they serve and are in almost daily contact with their students. This engagement is a critical piece of any vaccination effort. There’s no better place to provide vaccinations to schoolchildren than at their local, neighborhood school.”
He said in an interview that government agencies are committed to providing the doses the district would need to carry out the large-scale effort, which is scheduled to begin May 24.
The vaccine would be available to students at school-based and mobile clinics. Beutner said the school-based effort would bolster community vaccination rates because it would lessen vaccine hesitancy in some communities and also provide a practical location for shots, at a venue families already interact with and trust.
“We want to start vaccinating students during this school year, while teachers, staff and students are still in schools,” Beutner said. “Educators can share information with families and help encourage students to get vaccinated. Schools can empower student voices to speak about this opportunity with their peers.”
The superintendent said the district already has had promising results at Fremont High School, with virtually all people receiving shots coming from the low-income, Latino and Black community served by the campus. The Fremont clinic is one of 19 already in operation.
At some of these clinics, Beutner said, the district has struggled to obtain enough doses, while at others there have been shots to spare. Community members can make appointments in advance or just walk in. Specific, consistent data about how many vaccines have been administered at campuses and to whom have been challenging for L.A. Unified to collect because the clinics are run by outside providers who are primarily focused on providing the services, Beutner said.
Vaccination could be a key to getting students to return to campus in greater numbers. L.A. Unified reopened campuses in a staggered schedule starting the week of April 12. According to figures from last week, about 30% of elementary students have returned. The figure for middle schools is 12%; for high schools 7%.
Health concerns remain a major factor in family hesitancy to return, along with reluctance to disrupt schedules so late in the school year. At the middle and high school level, the format also is an issue: Students who return to campus must remain in the same classroom all day, where they log in to classes online, the same as they would from home. The instructor in the room is working online as well, teaching their own schedule of courses to students at home and scattered across campus.
The summer school schedule will be different, offering in-person instruction at all grade levels. High school students will have the option to take two classes in person and two additional classes online if they wish. And all families will continue to have the option of an online-only program.
The fall schedule is likely to have two major components: either a regular, full-time schedule or a predominantly online schedule. L.A. Unified, like other school systems, is expected to move away from hybrid plans that split the traditional school hours between on-campus and at-home schedules.
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