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L.A. school board delays enforcement of student vaccine mandate to fall 2022

A 5-year-old gets vaccinated against COVID-19.
Aidan Williams sits with son Ocean, 5, as he gets a COVID-19 vaccine shot from nurse Chelsea Meyer in November.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
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The Los Angeles school board agreed Tuesday to delay enforcement of its student COVID-19 vaccine mandate from Jan. 10 to fall 2022, citing concerns over disrupting learning and the monumental task of transferring tens of thousands of students into independent study.

The decision came after interim Supt. Megan K. Reilly laid out a plan Friday to push back the deadline because the district was confronted with the reality that about 28,000 students had not complied and under the rules would be barred from in-person schooling and enrolled in independent study.

So far, 87% of L.A. Unified students 12 and older have shown proof of vaccination, obtained a medical exemption or received a rare extension, a high rate that Reilly cited when she proposed the delay. The district’s independent study program, City of Angels, was overwhelmed in the fall with about 16,000 students — and district officials did not want to send so many children back to online learning.

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Doing so also would mean transferring teachers to City of Angels and disrupting academic programs and learning for vaccinated students who would remain in schools, board members said.

“I felt like we were ending up with a situation in which those who complied would be the most negatively affected,” school board member Jackie Goldberg said. “I think we have no choice.”

She added that those opposed to COVID-19 vaccinations cannot claim victory. “I want to tell those of you who come and ... think you pushed us back. No, you didn’t. The mandate remains.”

The board also voted to expand the student vaccination mandate to charter schools that are authorized by the district.

School board member George McKenna, who supported the measure to expand the mandate to charter schools, was the only member to vote no on postponing the student vaccination deadline, saying the delay “dilutes the intent of the original policy.” All other board members supported both provisions.

Incoming Supt. Alberto Carvalho, who was in Los Angeles on Tuesday, weighed in during a news conference, calling the move “the right decision.”

“The conditions that the board is facing today, and the policy adjustments are not, in my opinion, a reversal of decisions made,” he said, but “an evolution of the previous board position” that recognizes what is best for students.

United Teachers Los Angeles also voiced support for the delayed enforcement at the school board meeting. UTLA Secretary Arlene Inouye said the union encourages the district to increase education through vaccination outreach campaigns to students and families.

“We support the district’s student and employee vaccinations requirements that remain our community’s best line of defense against COVID-19,” Inouye said. “We also understand the huge challenges and potentially disastrous impact that transferring 30,000 students into an online independent study program would create for our students and their families.”

On Monday, a judge upheld the district’s mandate after two parent organizations challenged it in court. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff denied a request for a preliminary injunction, stating that the district’s imperative to protect the health and safety of students outweighed the difficulties of remote learning.

High school students on sports teams will still need to get vaccinated in order to participate.

Other school districts in California, including Oakland Unified and Culver City Unified, have also opted to not enforce or have pushed back their original mandate deadlines.

While some independent charters have voluntarily adopted the student mandate, El Camino Real Charter High School in Woodland Hills opted against it.

David Hussey, El Camino’s executive director, said the charter board’s decision came after more than two hours of input from the community, including teachers, students and parents.

“They just decided at this point they would rather follow local and state guidelines,” Hussey said. The school, which is already aligned with the district’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees, will comply with the latest directive for students, Hussey said.

UTLA also supports the district’s directive to apply the student vaccination mandate to independent charter schools.

“It’s been disturbing to learn that the district’s COVID health mandates have not equally applied to all students and staff at independent charters, and we are encouraged to see that the district is taking positive steps to address this problem,” Inouye said.

Ricardo Soto, chief advocacy officer and general counsel for the California Charter School Assn., said in a statement that charter schools in his organization would take steps to ensure charter public schools are “aware of mandated timelines, policies are based on science, and parents are provided full transparency on the health and safety of their child.”

Times staff writer Howard Blume contributed to this report.


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