The Los Angeles Board of Education on Tuesday unanimously approved the postponement of a mandate to vaccinate students against COVID-19 that was to come into effect next fall, on the recommendation of the superintendent. Alberto Carvalho.
The 8:30 p.m. vote after a nearly 12-hour board meeting passed without comment from either Carvalho or board members. It was a stark anticlimax after board members decisively embraced the vaccine requirement last year – and were determined to defend it against lawsuits.
But in an earlier interview with The Times, Carvalho said the change in leadership was backed by science and also justified on pragmatic and academic grounds.
“It was the right decision at the right time, fully backed up by science,” Carvalho said.
Carvalho based his request for the postponement — until at least July 1, 2023 — on the school system’s current vaccination rate among older students and what he described as low transmission rates in schools. Carvalho said he also consulted with experts who work with the country’s second-largest school system.
The decision aligns with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement last month that he was suspending a state mandate that at one point was due to go into effect before the next school year.
About 78% of Los Angeles Unified School District students ages 12 and older received both doses of the vaccine — which was required for the fall. Based on enrollment, that would leave around 40,000 students non-compliant and unable to attend classes in person if the requirement were to be enforced.
About 84% of students aged 12 and over have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
The school system is rolling out online academies for the fall, but officials didn’t want to force so many students into the option — or entice families to leave LA Unified.
The delay will make a positive difference for “students whose parents did not send them to school for face-to-face instruction because they did not have vaccination status,” Carvalho said.
Carvalho added that he expected registration for online academies to potentially include families uncomfortable with term deferral as well as anyone else who continues to worry about the associated health risks. to COVID-19.
All employees working on school sites have been fully vaccinated – and some former staff lost their jobs because they refused to be vaccinated and did not receive both an exemption and an alternative assignment.
The district employee vaccination mandate remains in place. Carvalho announced he would request a postponement of the student mandate last month.
Coronavirus cases have recently increased, but health officials seem unwilling to reinforce restrictive preventive measures such as the resumption of mandatory masking in classrooms.
LA Unified was the first of the nation’s major school systems to institute a COVID-19 vaccination requirement for students. However, the district elected in December to delay enforcement of the rule until this fall. At the time, he feared he would overwhelm a struggling independent study program with non-compliant students. However, officials expected things to look very different by the fall, especially with the likelihood that a state mandate will also come into effect.
But Gov. Gavin Newsom and others were counting on federal vaccine approvals that have been slow to come together.
State health officials have said they will phase in a vaccination requirement following a decision by the United States Food and Drug Administration to fully approve a vaccine for younger children. We don’t know when that will happen.
Once the FDA takes action for ages 12 to 15, the state will begin a rule-making process — including the opportunity for public comment — to require vaccinations as a condition of attending grades seven through 12 in a public or private school.
Currently, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is available for children ages 5 to 15 under an emergency use authorization. Although experts overwhelmingly consider the vaccine safe, it has not received full official approval. A similar process would then occur for children ages 5 to 11 – the federal government would act first and the state would follow.
About a third of children ages 5 to 11 have completed their series of vaccinations in LA County, according to recent health data.
Times editor Melissa Gomez contributed to this report.
Los Angeles Times