L.A. schools will relax some student mask rules, ease COVID-19 testing. What to know
The Los Angeles Unified School District is making tweaks to its coronavirus protocols and is pushing new strategies to persuade more students to get vaccinated before critical deadlines.
The changes to safety protocols in schools involve somewhat relaxing mask-wearing rules, COVID-19 testing practices and quarantines.
So far, about 71.9% of students 12 and older who are mandated to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 10 have had at least one vaccine dose or have otherwise complied with the district’s vaccine requirement, said school board member Jackie Goldberg, based on an internal briefing. “Probably 64%” are fully vaccinated, she added. The number could be higher once families upload documentation. She said the county health department “thinks we are at about 70% based on addresses of those who live in LAUSD.”
Here is a breakdown of what’s ahead come Jan. 10, the start of the next semester:
Weekly coronavirus testing for all students and adults will conclude with the end of the fall semester on Dec. 17. The massive effort involved 500,000 tests a week, at a total cost estimated at $350 million.
In January, students at middle and high schools — where the vaccine mandate will be in force — will no longer have to wear masks outside. The same will hold for elementary schools where 85% of students are vaccinated. Students ages 5 to 11 recently became eligible for vaccination, but the district is not extending its mandate to them. All students and staff will continue to wear mask indoors.
Elementary students, vaccinated or not, will no longer be sent home automatically if they are close contacts of a coronavirus case. They can remain in school on a “modified quarantine,” in which students are tested for a coronavirus infection and monitored for symptoms. The goal is to keep more students in class.
Students must be fully vaccinated by the Jan. 10 start of the second semester or they will not be allowed on campus. Their options would be to pursue their education outside L.A. Unified or transfer to City of Angels, a district independent study program that has faced struggles this year.
The school district faces at least two lawsuits over its student COVID-vaccine mandate, but so far the legal challenges have done nothing to thwart the impending January deadline.
The district also has two announced earlier “deadlines” that are more like guideposts for families to remain on schedule to comply: By Sunday, students 12 and older are supposed to have received an initial dose. By Dec. 19, they are supposed to have received a second or final dose.
Officials say these deadlines — which build in more time than is needed to be fully vaccinated — were set to allow families to comply before the holidays. The extra time also gives officials more time to see how many families are complying — and to plan accordingly. It would be difficult, for example, to have to wait until Jan. 10 to know how much more staffing is needed to manage families transferring to City of Angels.
This week, the Los Angeles Board of Education authorized an estimated $5 million for prizes and treats as incentives, including gift cards to Amazon and Target, tickets to “Hamilton” and food trucks on campus.
The incentives are mainly raffles, and anyone in compliance is eligible — meaning those who are vaccinated, have an approved medical exemption or have a rare authorized extension. Religious exemptions are not being granted.
Raffle prizes have also included gift cards to grocery stores; tickets to Disneyland, Six Flags Magic Mountain and Universal Studios Hollywood; and graduation-night entertainment packages. Some of the money is being spent centrally, but regional administrators have funds to come up with their own plans. Some have brought in food trucks; Wilson High in El Sereno has logo T-shirts for every student who follows the rules.
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