The Los Angeles board of education voted Thursday to require students 12 and older to be vaccinated against the coronavirus to attend in-person classes in the nation’s second-largest school district.
The move makes Los Angeles by far the largest of a very small number of districts with a vaccine requirement. Nearby Culver City imposed a similar policy last month for its 7,000 students.
The Los Angeles Unified School District, which has more than 600,000 mostly Latino students, already tests all students and employees every week, requires masking indoors and outdoors and has ordered employees to be vaccinated. Under the vaccination plan, students 12 and up who participate in sports and other extracurricular activities need to get their two-shot sequence completed by the end of October. Others have until Dec. 19.
“It is easy to wait for someone to tell us what to do. LA Unified is leading because we must. Our communities cannot wait,” Mónica García, a board member, said before the overwhelming vote in favor of the move.
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“This action is not about violating anybody’s rights. This action is about doing our job to be able to offer public schools that children can come to school and be safe,” she said.
Los Angeles Unified was among the last of the nation’s largest districts to reopen to classroom instruction last spring. The teachers union opposed the move for months, citing health concerns.
The district's student population is nearly three-quarters Latino and many are poor. Among adults, poor Latinos are vaccinated at a lower rate than the state average.
Under the plan, all students age 12 and up in the district will be fully vaccinated by the time they return to class following winter break on Jan. 11. Those who are participating in sports and other activities need to receive a first dose of vaccine by Oct. 3 and a second dose by Oct. 31, while other students need to get their first dose by Nov. 21 and a second dose no later than Dec. 19.
Some parents are eager to see all eligible students vaccinated. Lucy Rimalower, who has a kindergartener in the district, said she is relieved officials are taking steps to try to protect her son until he is old enough to get his shot, and that also helps protect her parents, who are in their 60s and 70s and help her with child care.
“This feels like following the precedent of all the other vaccines over time that have helped us to have a safer school environment, that lets us feel like it’s safe to send our kids to school without getting chickenpox, polio, the mumps, measles, rubella, you name it,” she said.
Other parents oppose the move, including Bryna Makowka, who has a teenage son in the district and believes it should be up to parents, not the board, to decide for their children.
“If you freely want to do it, by all means, go ahead. It is also my right not to, and to protect my son,” she said.
United Teachers Los Angeles supports the plan and had urged the board to mandate student vaccinations once teachers were required to get the shots.
Taxin reported from Orange County, California. Associated Press writer Jeff Amy in Atlanta contributed.