30,000 unvaccinated students throw Los Angeles district’s mandate into limbo

Kendall Tietz, DCNF

The nation’s second largest school district was set to implement a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for students, but once school leaders realized they would have to send home thousands of students to learn online it reversed course.

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) delayed its Jan. 10 vaccine deadline to the fall of 2022 once it realized that it would have to send home 30,000 students who faced the choice to either get vaccinated or switch to an “online independent study program.” LAUSD was the first school district in the country to announce a vaccine mandate for all students 12 and older attending in person classes for the 2021-22 school year, the school board announced on Sept. 9.

LAUSD said it decided to delay the vaccine requirement due to concerns about how to consolidate classes, reallocate teachers and move 30,000 students to remote learning by the January deadline, Politico reported. On Dec. 7, LAUSD fired almost 500 employees who did not get their first dose of the vaccine by Nov. 15.

Other districts in blue cities across the the U.S., such as Portland, Oregon, New York and Chicago are softening their plans to mandate vaccines as school leaders face pushback for student vaccine requirements before the Food and Drug Administration fully approves the vaccine for the age group, Politico reported.

California is also the first and only state to issue a vaccine requirement for eligible students in its K-12 schools. Many other school districts have required the vaccine for after-school activities, but not to attend class, Politico reported.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encouraged schools to implement the “test to stay” strategy “to minimize absenteeism and learning loss which can occur during traditional quarantine at home,” according to a press release. The strategy limits the amount of time students need to quarantine after being exposed to the virus.

But some argue LAUSD’s change in tune on vaccine requirements for students could have an impact on those who are opposed to mandates.

“Changing course teaches those who don’t want to get vaccinated to hold strong, because if they do so in large enough numbers, the system will accommodate them,” Brian Castrucci, president and CEO of the public health advocacy group de Beaumont Foundation told Politico.

The district also cited concerns that the vaccine mandate would have a disproportionate impact on black and Latino students.

“Not mandating the vaccine now is a clear disincentive for other districts to force the issue,” Yvonne Maldonado, chair of the Committee on Infectious Disease for the American Academy of Pediatrics and a professor of epidemiology at Stanford University told Politico. “Waiting until fall to implement the mandate means the virus is going to wreak havoc on another school year for a lot of kids. It’s the wrong call.”

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