The Los Angeles Unified School District became the first major district in the country to mandate COVID-19 vaccination for students 12 and older, a significant step to protect young people amid the spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus.
The district’s Board of Education voted Thursday to require vaccines for all eligible students by January, a timeline that will allow schools to begin the next semester with a fully inoculated cohort of eligible kids.
If passed, students 12 and older would need to receive a first dose of a vaccine by Nov. 21 and a second dose by Dec. 19 to attend in-person learning. Any child who turns 12 will then have 30 days after their birthday to get their first vaccination.
Students who compete in sports would be held to a tighter timeline: Kids 12 and older would be required to have a first dose by Oct. 3 and a second dose by Oct. 31.
Those who fail to meet the deadlines will not be allowed on LAUSD campuses and will be required to enroll in remote learning.
Megan Reilly, the interim superintendent for the public school district, told the Los Angeles Times the decision was one of the best measures officials “have at our disposal to create a safe environment.”
“We’ve always approached safety with a multilayered approach: masks, air filtration and coronavirus screening,” Reilly told The Times. “But we are seeing without a doubt that the vaccines are one of the clearest pathways to protecting individuals from getting severe sickness as well as for mitigating transmission of the COVID virus.”
Just under 58% of students in the district ages 12 to 18 are vaccinated, according to the county’s Department of Public Health. The district has an independent study option in place for the rest of the year for students who opt to stay home, but The Washington Post reported that many students have chosen to return to class.
Reilly added to the L.A. Times that officials estimate 80,000 students who will fall under the policy are not yet vaccinated.
The Los Angeles Unified School District has more than 600,000 students and is the second-largest in the nation. The New York Times reported that the decision could have sweeping ramifications nationwide, providing smaller districts with a precedent to establish their own vaccine mandates.
The district already has some of the most stringent COVID-19 prevention measures in the nation, including mask mandates for all students, staff and visitors on campus, and daily health checks. The district also has a school testing program that screens every student and staff member weekly.
Many of those requirements have drawn legal challenges, and the student vaccine mandate is likely to wind up in court as well.
The move won’t be the first for a district in California. Last month the Culver City Unified School District, also in Los Angeles County, said it would mandate vaccines for all eligible students, giving them a deadline of Nov. 19.