Students aged 12 or older in Los Angeles public schools will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by January if they wish to enter school grounds. The order was approved on Thursday by the L.A. Unified School District.
The second-largest school system in the U.S. has been belligerent in its testing for all students and employees for COVID-19 each week, requiring masks indoors and employees to be vaccinated, reports the LA Times.
L.A. schools Interim Supt. Megan K. Reilly said the student mandate was put in place to keep children and staff safe.
“We’ve always approached safety with a multilayered approach: masks, air filtration, and coronavirus screening,” Reilly told the Times. “But we are seeing without a doubt that the vaccines are one of the clearest pathways to protecting individuals from getting severe sickness as well as for mitigating transmission of the COVID virus. It is one of the best preventive measures that we have at our disposal to create a safe environment at schools.”
Odis Johnson Jr., executive director of the Center for Safe and Healthy Schools at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education, said that the L.A. district action “could provide the model for a comprehensive school response to COVID mitigation so that schools can move on to student academic and mental health recovery plans.”
“Mandatory vaccination mandates move us forward toward finally addressing students’ developmental, social and academic well-being,” he added.
Reilly estimated that about 225,000 students in grades six through 12 would fall under the policy, with district officials estimating that 80,000 had not already been vaccinated.
Students who have not received full vaccination by the January deadline will not be allowed on campus, noted Reilly, adding that students who wish to continue would need to enter remote learning through independent study, a program that was overburdened when more than 10,000 students enrolled.
All students must receive their first vaccination no later than November 12, and their second dose no later than December 19.
The proposal says that students must provide proof of vaccination by January 10, and that proof must be “uploaded and approved in LAUSD’s Daily Pass program” except for students with approved exemptions.
Vaccine exemptions can be requested for documented medical reasons, but not based on religious or personal beliefs.
The mandate also states that children under the age of 12 must receive their first vaccination no later than 30 days after their 12th birthday.
Scott Davison, an attorney representing Let Them Breathe, an organization dedicated to protecting the rights of children, said, “I expect that there will be numerous legal challenges to the vaccine mandate for children in LAUSD and other districts.”
“We know vaccines are effective at preventing severe disease,” Davison said. “The question for the [COVID] vaccines will be whether they are needed in a population like children who are already at incredibly low risk.”