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LAUSD orders all teachers and staff to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 15

A worker holds a needle with a vaccine dose.
A separate announcement endorsing the vaccine mandate was released by United Teachers Los Angeles.
(Associated Press)

All employees in the Los Angeles Unified School District must be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 15, interim Supt. Megan Reilly announced Friday — an order that puts it at the forefront of school systems across the country that are mandating strict coronavirus safety measures for employees and students.

The order is intended to provide more defense against the surging Delta variant as anxieties run high among many parents and employees over bringing some 465,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade and more than 75,000 staff back to campus on Monday for the new academic year.

The L.A. Unified requirement — endorsed by the teachers union — is sweeping in its impact, applying to anyone who regularly sets foot on campus, including outside contractors and parent volunteers.

“As part of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s efforts to provide the safest possible environment in which to learn and work, all district employees will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 15,” Reilly said in a statement.

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The date was set to give unvaccinated employees enough time to comply. It’s also the date when all California school districts, under a separate state order, must have a system in place to test unvaccinated workers every week for a coronavirus infection.

L.A. Unified’s massive testing program is already in place. Under that effort, all employees and students must test for a coronavirus infection each week, whether or not they are vaccinated.

The Chicago school system took a similar step Friday by issuing its own mandate. The board for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District approved a vaccine mandate Tuesday, a decision explained in a letter to the community from Supt. Ben Drati.

“As superintendent, if I err, I must err on the side of ensuring that we have been overly cautious and health-protective, not that we have fallen short and taken unnecessary risks in the face of this new Delta variant,” Drati said. “I must also use what is available to maximize and maintain the continuity of learning by doing our best to keep students and staff on campus throughout this journey.”

The L.A. Unified policy will apply to privately operated charter schools that make use of district property, but not to charters that operate elsewhere in the district boundaries.

The state charter schools association said it would take a constructive approach in working out the details with L.A. Unified.

“We urge all educators and school staff to get vaccinated to keep themselves and the students in their care safe,” said Myrna Castrejón, head of the association.

Shortly after the L.A. Unified announcement, a separate one supporting the mandate was released by United Teachers Los Angeles, which represents more than 30,000 teachers, nurses, counselors and librarians.

The union’s board of directors approved the vaccine mandate “overwhelmingly,” according to the union. The UTLA board had previously voted to “not oppose” a vaccine mandate.

“This stronger position comes as the Delta variant continues to surge in our communities and as students and staff prepare for a return to full-time, in-person learning next week,” the union release stated.

UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz said she strongly backed the move.

“I am the parent of an LAUSD fifth-grader, and my family has been going through the same uncertainty and anguish as so many other families as we approach the return to school,” Myart-Cruz said in a statement. “This Delta variant is unlike anything we have seen so far in this crisis — especially its impact on children — and we all need to step up to do our part to protect the most vulnerable among us.”

There also appears to be broad support among parents for the employee mandate, from those who generally support union efforts as well as those who are union critics.

“I can’t tell you how relieved I am,” said Vivian Y. Chang, who has children in first and third grade. “I have been agonizing over whether I can straight up ask their teachers about their vaccine status. But then what real options would I have had if they said no?”

She added: “I couldn’t fathom having an eligible adult who chose not to be vaccinated against a deadly virus for which our kids have no protection against, being inside a classroom with my kids all day.”

“The swift decision to require vaccinations for every eligible teacher and staff member is absolutely necessary to protect the most vulnerable members of our communities — children under 12 and those who are immunocompromised,” said Parents Supporting Teachers cofounders Nicolle Fefferman and Jenna Schwartz in a statement.

Arash Farin’s daughter is headed back to third grade at Lanai Road Elementary in Encino after he pulled her out of the school district last year to attend in-person instruction at a private school.

“Shouldn’t we be rejoicing?” he said. “Who wouldn’t want to know their kids are going to a safe school, free of violence and free of the risk of transmitting the virus?”

Exemptions will be limited. There will be a process for documenting those “who cannot take the vaccine due to disability or sincerely held religious belief,” according to information posted by the school system.

Employees who don’t get a vaccine face discipline and could lose their jobs. Some internal estimates put the number of unvaccinated teachers-union members at about 15%, with the percentage of unvaccinated employees not involved in teaching-related duties at about 35%.

A middle school teacher in South Los Angeles expressed anger at the mandate.

“I had COVID in February 2020 — I’m immune,” said the teacher, who requested anonymity out of concern about retaliation. “I’ve been all over the country — maskless and without a vaccine.”

The teacher added that he is looking into legal options.

In March, a group called California Educators for Medical Freedom, made up of L.A. Unified employees, sued the school district to block a vaccine mandate.

A federal judge dismissed the case in large measure because no mandate was in place at the time. The case could be refiled.

“For there to be a future injury, LAUSD would have to make vaccinations mandatory, at least one of the plaintiffs would have to refuse to receive a vaccine and not qualify for any exemption, and LAUSD would have to take an adverse employment action against that plaintiff as a result,” U.S. Central District Judge Dale S. Fischer wrote in July.

The L.A. decision received support yesterday from E. Toby Boyd, head of the California Teachers Assn., and Randi Weingarten, who leads the American Federation of Teachers.

Weingarten said she expects to see more school districts adopting a vaccine mandate or a policy that requires employees to be vaccinated or submit to weekly coronavirus testing.

She thinks more districts are likely to choose the latter for various reasons “including the fact that we have teacher shortages right now, and we have lots of people who still are skeptical.”

“What I am not seeing enough of is the universal masking policies in schools,” she added. “We need that as well.”


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