Massive Los Angeles School District Pushes Back Deadline For Student Vaccination Mandate

The Los Angeles Unified School District delayed its student COVID vaccine mandate.

On Tuesday night, the board of the Los Angeles Unified School District voted to move the Jan. 10 deadline for students 12 and older to be fully vaccinated to attend classes in-person to the fall of 2022. If the deadline remained, thousands of unvaccinated students would have been forced to do distanced learning.

The board meeting ended with comments from board member Jackie Goldberg, 77, who urged those unvaccinated to get their shots and said the importance of vaccinations was personal for her.

"I grew up with polio, I saw classmates of mine die," Goldberg said. The polio vaccine "saved thousands of thousands and thousands of lives and it kept hundreds of thousands more from losing use of arms and legs."

To parents who are concerned about the mental health of children who aren't allowed to learn on campus, Goldberg said, "Get them vaccinated. It's really very simple."

Approximately 27,000 unvaccinated students (roughly four percent of enrollment) would have been prohibited from campuses and overwhelmed the district's independent study program, which had already been facing staff shortages. The loss of students on campus would have also impacted classrooms in the district that could have lost teachers because of unvaccinated students' absences.

The LA district is the second-largest in the nation and home to roughly 640,000 students.

Los Angeles issued the mandate in September, becoming the largest school district in the U.S. to do so.

Goldberg and other board members said this was not a concession to parents against the vaccine, but an acknowledgment of the significant effect of the mandate on students.

"This change is not about conceding to a vocal minority of anti-vaxxers," board President Kelly Gonez said.

Vaccine Deadline, Postponed, LA School District
Approximately 27,000 unvaccinated students would have been prohibited from campuses and overwhelmed the district’s independent study program, which had already been facing staff shortages, if the Jan. 10 deadline for the vaccine mandate had stayed. In this photo, an anti-vaccine mandate protester holds a sign outside the front windows of the Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters in Los Angeles, Sept. 9, 2021. Damian Dovarganes/AP Photo, File

So far, 87 percent of Los Angeles Unified students qualified to receive the vaccine have shown proof of vaccination or qualified for a medical exemption, which interim Superintendent Megan K. Reilly called "a major milestone."

The district has moved more aggressively than most in enacting COVID-19 safety measures. It tests all students and employees every week, requires masking indoors and outdoors and was among the first to order employees to be vaccinated. Last week, nearly 500 of the roughly 73,000 school district employees (less than one percent), including seven that held teacher credentials, lost their jobs as a result of the staff mandate.

In other states, mandates have been more limited.

New York City's school system, the nation's largest, has only required student vaccinations for high-risk extracurricular activities, like band, orchestra, dance, and certain sports like football, basketball, and wrestling. School staff there were required to be vaccinated by October.

Several other states have gone in the opposite direction, including Florida, Texas, and Alabama, which have measures that could restrict officials or school districts from imposing coronavirus vaccine mandates for students.

In Los Angeles, the new deadline of fall 2022 is more closely aligned with the state's own vaccine mandate.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in October that California will require all public and private school students to have the COVID-19 vaccine, which will be added to the list of 10 immunizations required to attend schools. But the state mandate will only kick in after federal regulators give full approval for the shots. Newsom's office has said it is not expected to take effect until July at the earliest, and officials had urged school districts to impose their own rules.

Many districts did that, but are now reconsidering or pushing back initial deadlines, faced with the reality of large numbers of unvaccinated students.

The Oakland Unified School District recently pushed back by a month its Jan. 1 deadline for students to either prove they are vaccinated or get approval for an exemption. Its vaccination dashboard says that 38 percent of students, or about 5,700, remain unvaccinated or have not reported their status.

The numbers are higher in Sacramento, which has a deadline of Jan. 31 for students 12 and older to show proof of vaccination.

More than 55% of eligible students in Sacramento, or more than 10,000, are unvaccinated or have not reported their status, the school's dashboard said. Those students could be assigned to independent study if they don't get vaccinated or fail to apply for an exemption by the Jan. 31 deadline, said Alexander Goldberg, a district spokesman.

"We have a long way to go but we're seeing positive trends," Goldberg said. The district set an initial date of Nov. 30 for reporting a first dose of the vaccine, and after contacting families who were not in compliance, the numbers have almost doubled in the past two weeks, he said.

West Contra Costa's mandate does not allow for religious or personal belief exemptions, making it among the strictest in the state. The school board will decide Wednesday whether to extend its Jan. 3 deadline to Feb. 18, said district spokesman Ryan Phillip.

As of last Friday, nearly 5,000 students, out of some 12,000 who come under the mandate, had uploaded their vaccination cards but that leaves more than half who haven't.

"We are working to secure responses from 6,743 students," said Phillips.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Vaccine Deadline, Postponed, LA School District
Los Angeles issued the vaccine mandate in September, becoming the largest school district in the U.S. to do so. In this photo, a child receives a dose of Pfizer's COVID vaccine at an event launching school vaccinations in Los Angeles, California, on Nov. 5, 2021. Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images