On August 17, 2021, I announced that the District will be mandating vaccination against COVID-19 for all eligible staff and students. As stated in my previous letter to families, we will begin gathering vaccine status data immediately, and the deadline for proof of vaccination is November 19, 2021, to give everyone the opportunity to make their vaccine plans. I believe strongly that this is the right decision for the health and safety of our students, employees and community, and for the continuity of our students’ education in 2021-2022.
I also believe strongly that the time to do this is now – we know that the Delta variant is prevalent within Los Angeles County, and we know also that there is evidence that this Delta variant is, unfortunately, significantly more infectious than the original virus strain. I believe therefore that time is of the essence in getting as many of our eligible students vaccinated as possible.
To my knowledge, our District was the first in California, if not the nation, to make an announcement of this nature. Since the announcement, the District has received many communications of support from our community, as well as some in opposition. And although we may have been first, we are not alone: on September 9, 2021, the Los Angeles Unified School District approved a vaccination requirement for students. I understand that feelings are strong around these issues, and that all families want their children to be free to pursue learning in a safe school environment. I therefore want to update our community on where we are going as a District on this issue.
The Los Angeles County California Department of Public Health has made the following statement in its Reopening Protocols for K-12 Schools (Revised 8/12/2021), which bears quoting in full:
“COVID-19 VACCINATION IS THE FIRST LINE OF DEFENSE. Achieving a high vaccination rate on your school campus is the first and best way to lower risk of infection and transmission at your school, greatly decrease risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death in those who are fully vaccinated, and provide an additional layer of protection for those who are not currently eligible for vaccination (e.g., all students younger than 12 years of age.) For this reason, in addition to all requirements and recommendations written in this protocol, schools are urged to adopt strategies that normalize, promote and facilitate COVID-19 vaccination for all eligible staff and students on your campus.”
This is the guiding principle for our District with respect to COVID-19 vaccination. We are evaluating methods for promoting compliance, including with respect to protocols for student participation in interscholastic athletics, other extracurricular activities, and after-school programs, regular testing of asymptomatic students, and providing alternative educational options for unvaccinated students. We will also make provision for exemptions as required by law, including for medical reasons. At this time, the District has not determined the measures by which compliance will be monitored and enforced, however our approach will be inclusive, and no student will be denied an education.
Some have questioned the District’s authority to establish a student vaccination requirement. Our decisions are based on the best interests of students, following public health guidelines and the law. Our society has faced many novel legal issues as we fight the pandemic together. However, long standing legal precedent, predating the current pandemic, supports student vaccination requirements in public schools, for the protection of students and the community against infectious disease. Recent federal court rulings in other states have affirmed the authority of employers and educational institutions to adopt such requirements in response to the current pandemic. The District will continue to monitor public health guidelines and other legal developments closely. At this time, however, we are confident that the steps we have taken to date are both necessary and fully in compliance with the law.
Understandably, many of us hoped as summer began that 2021-2022 would be a more “normal” school year, and that our children could look forward to a school experience closer to what they knew before the pandemic. Developments of recent weeks have reminded all of us that we are not out of the woods, and that there is still much work to be done to protect our students and community from this terrible disease, so that our students can continue in their education. I strongly believe that vaccination of all eligible students and staff is essential to this endeavor, and I encourage every family in our District to get vaccinated as soon as possible.