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L.A. teachers union calls for vaccination mandate for eligible students, stricter quarantines

 A nurse gives vaccine to a 14-year-old girl at Eagle Rock Junior/Senior High School.
A nurse gives a COVID-19 shot to Gizelle Carrillo, 14, at Eagle Rock Junior/Senior High School All L.A. Unified employees must be vaccinated by Oct. 15, and the teachers union has called for mandatory vaccinations for all eligible students.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles teachers union is calling for mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for all eligible students and stricter quarantine rules while raising some objections to a new district mandate for online instruction when students are in quarantine.

The demand from United Teachers Los Angeles, in a proposal submitted at the bargaining table, calls for students “to achieve full vaccination no later than 12 weeks following the birthday in which they become eligible,” subject to medical and religious exemptions laid out in state and federal law.

The union also is calling for entire classes of younger students to be quarantined when anyone in that class — staff or student — tests positive for a coronavirus infection.

The union’s proposals were laid out in a document called “Counterproposal #2,” which is dated Aug. 26 and was supplied to The Times. There is no indication that the district has agreed to either proposal, which would further cement L.A. Unified’s coronavirus rules as among the strictest in the nation.

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The nation’s second-largest school district is already operating the most ambitious coronavirus testing operation in the county, with weekly mandatory testing of all on campus and mask mandates indoors and outdoors.

The district’s online teaching plan will have the most immediate effect on students — thousands remain at home in isolation or quarantine, although the number of infections declined overall during the second week of school.

Many of these students had been receiving limited instruction during the first two weeks of school, which began on Aug. 16. The district’s announcement should resolve much of the confusion and uncertainty around instruction during quarantines.

“Students and families need clear expectations and support for learning at home while they’re asked to isolate or quarantine,” L.A. Unified Interim Supt. Megan Reilly said in a statement. “This plan serves as an interim guide for educators and supporting students during this difficult and unique time.”

The new policy represents a partial return to the Zoom-based classes of the last two school years, which school systems had hoped to leave behind as the coronavirus pandemic subsided. But the surge in the Delta variant and safety protocols have prompted schools in Los Angeles — and across the county — to send thousands of students home.

In the first week of school in L.A. Unified, about 6,500 students missed one or more days of classes because they either tested positive for the virus or were a close contact of someone who did. That works out to 1 in 70 students. About 1,000 district employees missed at least one day of work that first week for the same reasons. Only one school, Grant Elementary in Hollywood, has had a confirmed outbreak — with three or more linked cases involving an on-campus transmission of the infection.

The second-week data show some improvement. Although 4,000 students were in quarantine for one or more days, up from 3,500, the number of student infections declined from 2,000 in the first week to 1,500 in the second. Infections among staff declined from 200 to 130. Staff quarantines dropped from 500 to 190. Infection rates for students and staff also declined.

With quarantines spreading rapidly across the vast school system, some schools responded immediately by setting up Zoom sessions or simulcasts, but then backed away — concerned about potentially violating state rules or union agreements. Other schools did just the opposite, at first refusing to offer live online classes but then reversing course.

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At last week’s Board of Education meeting, officials said schools could offer instruction online with the consent of the teacher. There still was concern about losing funding as a result of violating state rules, which eliminated both the remote and “hybrid learning” options of the previous year.

Last year, students had the option of choosing an online-only schedule that closely matched a traditional school day. Other families could choose a schedule that split the school week between home and school — to allow for smaller class sizes and more distance between students.

For the current school year, the state limited districts to offering a form of independent study for parents not ready to send their children back to campus. This option includes some live online instruction, but it’s a separate program from the classes at the school where a student would otherwise be enrolled.

Monday’s district action makes the online outreach mandatory, regardless of funding implications.

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Under the new guidelines, teaching will move to Zoom when an entire class and teacher are in isolation due to an infection or quarantine because of exposure to an infection. When some students are in class and others at home, the teacher must provide a simulcast. If the teacher is the one at home in quarantine — but not sick — the teacher will provide live instruction online and a substitute will manage the students present on campus.

The Aug. 26 union proposal includes the major features of the district’s just-announced plan for online instruction, appearing to signal union assent with the general intent. But union leaders characterized the district’s announcement as “bad faith bargaining” in a statement Monday night.

The union said Reilly erred in telling principals “to unilaterally implement the district’s Continuity of Learning proposal — without having reached a bargaining agreement as required by law and without it being vetted by parents and educators. UTLA will be filing an Unfair Labor Practice charge with the Public Employment Relations Board.”

The union said it wants more flexibility in the instructional options.

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Details of the union demands were posted earlier Monday on Instagram by the site UTLA Uncensored.

At least one other California school system is requiring students to be vaccinated: Culver City Unified recently announced the policy, pending appropriate regulatory approval.

On Monday, Reilly also pushed for more eligible students to be vaccinated during visits to three school-based vaccination clinics.


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