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Other School Districts in No Rush to Follow Los Angeles Unified Vaccine Mandate

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Oliver Barr, 13, receives his COVID-19 vaccine administered by medical assistant Karina Cisneros from St. John's Well Child & Family Center at Abraham Lincoln High School in Los Angeles on May 13, 2021, on the first day of availability of the vaccine for the 12-15 year old age group. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

Fourteen-year-old Allison Cunningham rushed to get her vaccine as soon as she became eligible for her shots.

But when she started her first year last month at Venice High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District, she found that many of her classmates had not been so eager.

“People we don’t know will sometimes sit and eat lunch with us,” Cunningham said. “And it’s kinda awkward to ask, ‘Are you vaccinated?’ ”

Cunningham can interact with new classmates with more confidence now that the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education voted Thursday to require all eligible students ages 12 and older to be vaccinated by Dec. 19.

“I’m pretty excited about it. I’m glad we’re taking this step,” she said. “I feel more comfortable hanging out with people who are vaccinated.”


LAUSD is the first major school district in the nation to require vaccines for students. But the move from California’s largest school district won’t have an immediate ripple effect. While some California districts have already started considering a vaccine mandate for students, the conversation hasn’t started at others.

“We have so many kids in our district,” Cunningham said. “I think it’s our job to make it safe to come to school.”

No statewide momentum yet

Los Angeles Unified’s mandate requires that all students 12 and older receive their first dose by Nov. 3 and their second dose by Dec. 19, with earlier deadlines for students participating in in-person extracurricular activities. Younger students must be fully vaccinated within eight weeks of their 12th birthdays.

LAUSD isn’t the first district to require vaccines for students.

The neighboring Culver City Unified School District issued a vaccine mandate in mid-August. Less than a week later, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to the Pfizer vaccine for those 16 and older.

But as schools reopened statewide, no other districts in the state required vaccines for students.

“Some districts may hesitate because they feel it’s intrusive,” said Troy Flint, spokesperson for the California School Boards Association. “Some may feel that it’s too politically charged. Others may feel they’ve been able to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 through other measures.”

While health experts hope California’s largest district can be a guiding light for others across the state, Flint said there’s been no immediate rush to issue similar mandates.

“I’m sure there will be some other districts that take this step,” he said. “But I don’t get the feeling that this will become a huge trend in the short term.”

Alex Stack, a spokesperson for Gov. Gavin Newsom, said there is currently no conversation about a statewide vaccine mandate for students.

Even at neighboring districts like Newport-Mesa Unified School District in Orange County and Duarte Unified School District 20 miles east of Los Angeles, school leaders have not started considering a vaccine requirement for students.

Public health experts like Dr. Monica Gandhi from UCSF and Andrew Noymer from UC Irvine support a vaccine mandate for all eligible students but said all students and staff should continue wearing masks indoors.

While children are less likely to have severe cases of COVID-19, those same experts say vaccinating children will help protect their families and the other adults in their lives. Vaccinations would reduce the number of quarantines for students and tilt the school year towards normalcy.

“We already ask children to get vaccinated for preventable illnesses like measles, mumps and rubella,” said Gandhi, a professor of medicine. “These kinds of mandates that keep society immune have been around a long time.”

The FDA has not fully approved the vaccine for children between the age of 12 and 15, but Gandhi said millions of students in those age groups have already been safely vaccinated under emergency use authorization.

Noymer, a public health professor, said the FDA prioritized approving the COVID-19 vaccine for adults not because the shots are dangerous for kids, but because adults are most at risk of getting sick.

“The idea was never that we need to protect these children from vaccines because vaccines are experimental and dangerous,” he said. “We vaccinate kids all the time.”

Oakland Unified starts the conversation

On Wednesday, less than 24 hours before the Los Angeles Unified School District school board passed its vaccine mandate for students, the Oakland Unified School District’s board introduced a resolution that tasks the superintendent with coming up with a plan for getting all students vaccinated.

“There’s no date set yet for a vaccine requirement, but it’s definitely gonna be soon,” said Gary Yee, an OUSD school board member.

He added that students could be exempt from the requirement for medical or religious reasons, but might have to provide a note from a doctor to be medically excused.

Megan Bacigalupi, an Oakland Unified School District parent and the executive director of Open Schools California, said districts should first require all employees to be vaccinated first, as Los Angeles Unified has done.

“The primary burden in schools and society should be on adults getting vaccinated because of their risk of getting sick,” she said. “We’re asking children to shoulder the burden.”

OUSD and most other districts in the state are following the guidelines from the California Department of Public Health, which require teachers and staff to be fully vaccinated or undergo weekly testing.

Yee said a vaccine requirement for all adults and students would be ideal, but he said it would require bargaining with the teacher and staff unions.

More school coverage

“I would personally love that,” Yee said. “Requiring vaccinations for adults might be the next step, but I wanted to move forward with something that’s cleaner and clearer.”

Many public health experts agree with Bacigalupi.

“In this case, I don’t see the logic in having one set of standards for one school sub-population alongside a different standard for another sub-population,” Noymer said. “Especially given that the students have the stricter standard, while the adults are the ones who are more at risk of symptomatic disease.”

Responding to local needs

San Francisco Unified School District, another large urban district, will likely not need a vaccine mandate for students, said Board of Education President Gabriela López. According to the city’s COVID-19 vaccination data, 90% of all residents between 12 and 17 have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

“The reason why we’ve been safer in combating the pandemic is because of vaccinations,” López said. “It’s helped our staff get back to school. It’s the one thing that shifted our entire approach to COVID.”

At San Diego Unified School District, the state’s second-largest district with close to 100,000 students, Board President Richard Barrera said the district is “not quite ready to discuss vaccine mandates for students.”

But Zachary Patterson, a student board member and a senior in the district, said he believes the science is clear behind vaccines.


“I would support any resolution brought forth,” he said. “As we see LAUSD moving in this direction, it definitely paves the way for smaller school districts to consider things like that.”

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