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L.A. Unified’s fall 2022 vaccine mandate in question as state delays its requirement

A seventh-grade girl gets vaccinated.
A nurse gives a student the first dose of the Pfiizer vaccine. The Los Angeles Unified School District will soon decide if it will align with the state’s latest guidance or forge ahead with its own timeline in requiring students to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles Unified School District, among the largest school districts in the nation to mandate student COVID-19 vaccines, is now confronted with a pivotal decision over whether to stick with its requirement for fall 2022 or align with the state, which has delayed its rule for at least a year.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday that he is pausing a state mandate that was set to go into effect before the upcoming 2022-2023 academic year. Also Thursday, an influential Democratic lawmaker said he will drop his bill pushing for even stricter inoculation rules. The California Department of Public Health said the student requirement will be pushed back to at least July 1, 2023, as it waits on the Food and Drug Administration for full authorization for vaccines for children 12 and older.

L.A. Unified had delayed enforcement of its mandate to the start of the fall 2022 school year. It was unclear Friday whether the school board will again delay its policy. Throughout the pandemic, the board has put in place some of the strongest pandemic school safety rules in the nation, including weekly coronavirus testing.

School board President Kelly Gonez said Friday she is “disappointed to see the state pushing back their timeline” because vaccines protect the community and only about 67% of California’s children 12 to 17 years old are vaccinated. She said that the school board will “review the state’s changes shortly and make determinations about our own requirements. Throughout the pandemic, we have had to adapt to unpredictable changes in COVID conditions, and that challenge continues.”

Supt. Alberto Carvalho is visiting family in Portugal over the spring break and was not available for comment. School resumes on Monday.

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Board member Jackie Goldberg favors keeping the fall mandate in place because it has been effective in increasing the district’s rate of vaccination and keeping schools open.

“It works. We’ve had very few outbreaks, very few, and none that were large enough to close schools,” Goldberg said. “It’s because our kids are vaccinated and we test everyone every week. Is that expensive? Yes. But so is getting sick and losing people who work for us to illness, and so is getting kids sick and losing them to illness. So I don’t see any reason for us to consider changing and I don’t believe we will.”

The board had delayed the mandate to prevent massive disruptions for students. Under the policy, unvaccinated students would not be allowed on campus and thousands would have been transferred into the district’s independent study program, City of Angels, which was already struggling at overcapacity. Classrooms and schedules would have been upset midway through the school year.

Goldberg said that is different now. The district has established six online schools, increasing capacity and giving more options to parents who do not want to vaccinate their children, she said.

Board member Nick Melvoin said the issue needs to be taken up again. He called the state’s postponement a sign of good policymaking at a time when districts are attempting to navigate “the largest educational disruption in a century without a playbook.”

When the board established the mandate in October, it did so in part because it believed the state would follow suit and make the COVID-19 vaccine a required school immunization and that full authorization for children 12 and older was imminent, Melvoin said.

Now, with legislation by state Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) no longer in play, and the state’s timeline delayed, Melvoin said the board will need to discuss whether it should align with the state’s guidance. Previously, he said, he has advocated for the district to align with the state to avoid patchwork policies that make it harder for families to navigate.

“I still think it makes sense to align, and I will push for at least an exploration of what that would look like for L.A. Unified, because I think we really have to consider the consequences of going our own way right now to students and families,” Melvoin said.

He added that if the district aligns with the state, it would not be a defeat.

“The fact that we have 87% of kids who are in compliance right now is huge, and I don’t think that would have happened without putting our stick in the ground that says vaccines are safe, they’re effective, and the best way to keep students in school,” he said.

In a brief statement after Pan withdrew his legislation, United Teachers Los Angeles President Cecily Myart-Cruz said the labor union will “continue to support vaccine mandates for employees and students.” It was unclear whether the teachers union supported Newsom’s delayed timeline.

L.A. County Office of Education Supt. Debra Duardo said in a statement Friday that she supports the governor’s decision to delay the requirement, as it will give school districts additional time.

“Enforcing a COVID vaccine mandate for students prior to the 2022-2023 school year is logistically unfeasible and would have resulted in students losing valuable time in school,” Duardo said.


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