L.A. Poised to Challenge Vaccination Mandate for College students

Los Angeles is poised to become the nation’s first major school district to mandate coronavirus vaccines for students 12 and older who attend class in person.

The district’s elected education committee will meet on Thursday afternoon to vote on the measure, which is expected to be widely adopted. The Los Angeles Unified School District is the second largest in the country, with over 600,000 students, and the mandate could set an important national precedent.

Students would need to have their first dose of vaccine by November 21st and their second dose by December 19th to start the next semester fully vaccinated. Those who turn 12 after that date have 30 days from their birthday to get their first shot.

Students participating in personal extracurricular activities must receive both admissions by the end of October. The resolution mentions “qualified and approved exemptions” from the mandate, but does not provide details.

The district is offering an independent online study option this year for those who opt out of in-person learning, but so far only a tiny percentage of students have opted for it.

In the months leading up to mandatory vaccination, the district may conduct education and training programs for families. According to the Los Angeles County’s Department of Health, 58 percent of the district’s 12 to 18 year olds have received at least one dose of vaccine.

Los Angeles Unified has run vaccine clinics in schools and has the most comprehensive school screening program in the country, with weekly screenings of all students and staff. Masking requirements are required for everyone on campus, both indoor and outdoor, and staff members must be vaccinated unless they qualify for one of the limited exemptions for serious illness and sincere religious beliefs.

“Our goal is to keep children and teachers as safe and in the classroom as possible,” said Nick Melvoin, a Los Angeles school board member, in a written statement supporting the resolution. “A medical and scientific consensus has emerged that the best way to protect everyone in our schools and communities is to protect those who are eligible to be vaccinated.”

A major constituency supporting the student vaccination mandate is the city’s teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the group has pushed for strict security measures and an extended period of distance learning in the final academic year. Los Angeles and other California counties were among the last in the country to reopen classrooms, and the union continues to call for more aggressive quarantines for those exposed to the virus.

Initial data on infections at schools in Los Angeles this year have been very reassuring. According to a Los Angeles Times tracker based on district data, 1,620 active Covid-19 cases were identified in schools as of September 6; only 5 were associated with on-campus broadcasts at two schools.

While states, rather than individual districts, typically require child vaccinations as a prerequisite for school enrollment, Los Angeles is not the first California district to have such a policy. The school system of Culver City, a small district also in Los Angeles County, announced a student mandate last month, and other California counties are considering similar requirements.

Such efforts are likely to result in legal challenges.

The Food and Drug Administration has currently approved emergency vaccines for children ages 12-15, but is expected to grant full approval in the coming weeks, which could pave the way for more school mandates across the country.

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