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The Los Angeles public school system is set to mandate vaccines for more than 600,000 students when its school board meets on Thursday.
The second-largest district in the country will require students over the age of 12—the minimum age authorized to receive the Pfizer vaccine—to get their second shots no later than December 19 in order to be eligible to attend in-person classes next year, under a plan expected to be approved during a special board meeting Thursday.
Children who turn 12 after the mandate goes into effect would have 30 days after their birthday to begin inoculation. The order would exclude students who have “qualified and approved exemptions under LAUSD’s existing immunization policies,” the resolution says. The Pfizer vaccine was granted full approval for people over the age of 16 by the Food and Drug Administration last month and has been authorized for emergency use for children between 12 and 15; Moderna submitted its application for full approval last month.
If approved as anticipated, the mandate would make the Los Angeles Unified School District by far the largest in the country to mandate vaccines for students, potentially setting a precedent in urban and more liberal areas across the country. The likely order also comes at a time when school board meetings and even schools themselves have become battlegrounds over masks.
The resolution cites a CDC study released last week showing that pediatric hospitalization rates last month were five times higher than they were in June, when cases were lower and before the more transmissible Delta variant became the most prominent strain of the virus in the U.S. In some states, pediatric ICUs have been stretched to their maximum capacity.
“With the return to full-time, in-person instruction for all students choosing to return to LAUSD school facilities for the 2021-22 school year, continued high COVID-19 transmission rates due to the surge of the Delta variant and high rates of cases among school age children due to transmission,” the resolution says, “vaccination of all eligible and nonexempt students provides the strongest protection to the health and safety of all students and staff in the LAUSD school communities.”
The resolution also calls COVID-19 a “a material threat to the health and safety of all students within the LAUSD community, and is a further threat to continuous in-person instruction.”
The Culver City Unified School District, which has about 6,500 students in west Los Angeles County, issued a vaccine mandate for students last month.
Last month, LAUSD mandated that all employees be vaccinated by October 15, becoming one of the first districts in the country to do so. “Science clearly shows that vaccinations are an essential part of protecting our communities,” the board said in a statement Wednesday.
There’s expected to be opposition to the decision from some parents: signup for public comment at the meeting, which will be broadcast via video as no speakers or visitors are allowed in the boardroom, is already maxed out. District officials have also told the Los Angeles Times that they expect litigation as a result of the decision. It wouldn’t be the first time: in April, a group of parents sued the district to fully reopen schools.
But some school board members are preemptively defending the decision. “Our goal is to keep kids and teachers as safe as possible and in the classroom,” LAUSD board member Nick Melvoin told the Times.
“A medical and scientific consensus has emerged that the best way to protect everyone in our schools and communities is for all those who are eligible to get vaccinated,” Melvoin added. “This policy is the best way to make that happen.”