Los Angeles is poised to become the first major school district in the United States to mandate coronavirus vaccines for students 12 and older who are attending class in person.
The district’s elected Board of Education will meet Thursday afternoon to vote on the measure, which is expected to pass with broad support. The Los Angeles Unified School District is the second largest in the nation, serving over 600,000 students, and the mandate could set an important national precedent.
Students would need their first vaccine dose by Nov. 21 and their second by Dec. 19 to begin the next semester fully inoculated. Those who turn 12 after those dates will have 30 days after their birthday to receive their first shot.
Students participating in in-person extracurricular activities will need both shots by the end of October. The resolution mentions “qualified and approved exemptions,” but does not offer details.
The months before the mandate takes effect will allow the district to conduct outreach and educational programs for families. According to the Los Angeles County Department of Health, 58 percent of the district’s 12-to-18-year-olds have already received at least one vaccine dose.
Los Angeles Unified has been operating vaccine clinics in schools, and has the nation’s broadest school testing program, screening all students and staff members weekly. Masks are required for every individual on campus, indoors and outdoors, and staff members must be vaccinated, with limited exceptions for serious medical conditions and sincerely held religious beliefs.
“Our goal is to keep kids and teachers as safe as possible and in the classroom,” said Nick Melvoin, a Los Angeles school board member, in a written statement expressing support for the resolution. “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.”
A key constituency supporting the student vaccine mandate is the city’s teachers’ union, United Teachers Los Angeles. Since the start of the pandemic, the group has pushed for stringent safety measures, and during the last academic year, a longer period of remote learning.
Initial data on infections at Los Angeles schools this year has been reassuring. According to a Los Angeles Times tracker based on district data, 1,620 active Covid-19 cases had been identified at schools as of Sept. 6; only five were linked to on-campus transmissions, at two schools.
While it is typically states, not individual districts, that are responsible for school vaccine mandates, the Culver City school system, a small district also in Los Angeles County, announced a student mandate last month, and other California districts are considering similar requirements. Legal challenges are likely.
The Food and Drug Administration has authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on an emergency basis for children ages 12 to 15, but could potentially grant full approval for that group later this year, which could pave the way for more school mandates.