Employees and students in the Los Angeles Unified School District are facing tight deadlines to comply with COVID-19 mandates and yet vast numbers of them have still failed to do so, and it may trigger a crisis in the nation’s second-largest school system.
All employees are required to be fully vaccinated by October 15 unless they’ve been approved for medical or religious exemptions, but information released at Tuesday’s Board of Ed meeting revealed that one in five—or about 12,000—LAUSD workers still haven’t had their first shot, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Losing anywhere near that number of employees would be a devastating blow to the district, which is already trying to fill 2,000 vacancies.
Students 12 and older must get their first shot by October 3 or give up all school-related extracurricular activities such as band, drama, and sports. Students must be fully vaccinated by the start of the second semester, January 10, and only medical exemptions will be accepted.
For both faculty and students, failure to comply will land them in the district’s remote, independent study program called City of Angels. The program, however, is already being overwhelmed by the 15,000 students and their families who chose that option. City of Angels also provides no solution for non-teaching employees.
Further complicating the issue of the employee mandate is the fact that it’s already too late for most vaccines to have their full effect by October 15, so the district is offering Johnson & Johnson shots.
Getting exemptions is also turning into a frustrating exercise for some who want them.
One teacher who spoke to the Times on condition of anonymity described the process, saying, “LAUSD sent us a form to fill out as to whether we wanted a medical or religious exemption. We were asked to attach a statement with it. I have a statement from a pastor that I attached.”
She heard back five weeks later: “I was told I would hear from human resources soon with my options to take a leave of absence, where I can use my personal days and then go unpaid—or go to the City of Angels.”
A last-ditch option for some educators is to quit. Another teacher who spoke to the paper anonymously did just that when her request for a religious exemption was denied. After decades working for the district, she would have qualified for lifetime health benefits had she worked another three months.
“Upsetting and sad,” she said.
Although the union’s Board of Directors backs the mandates, several LAUSD employees say a lawsuit is being prepared for them, while the district is already facing litigation on behalf of the students from famed anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s anti-vaccination group, Children’s Health Defense.
An LAUSD rep says the situation isn’t as bad as it seems because the current figure of 80 percent of employees who’ve been vaccinated doesn’t include those who have vaccine appointments and people who simply haven’t uploaded their vaccination documentation.
The district isn’t saying how many students and workers have applied for exemptions.
Stay on top of the latest in L.A. food and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.