The Los Angeles public school district's board of education has approved delaying enforcement of its COVID-19 vaccine mandate to the fall, as thousands of students at the nation's second-largest school district remain non-compliant.
Under the mandate, which the board passed in September, all students ages 12 and up were required to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 10, 2022, to be allowed on school campuses for the second semester, unless they had an approved exemption or deadline extension.
Currently, over 87% of eligible students are in compliance with the mandate, Los Angeles Unified Interim Superintendent Megan Reilly said during Tuesday's board meeting, calling it a "major milestone."
Some 27,000 students are not in compliance with the mandate, as it's too late to complete the two-dose vaccine series to be fully vaccinated by the January deadline.
Under Reilly's proposal, the transfer of non-compliant students to the remote program will be delayed until the beginning of the fall 2022 semester.
"It allows more time for families to get this vaccine," Reilly said ahead of the board's vote. "This effort remains a top priority for Los Angeles Unified. We will continue to engage students and families around the importance of vaccines and the deadlines to participate for in-person learning. We will improve vaccination rates for eligible students and we will continue to provide a consistent, stable learning environment and access to vital resources."
Most board members said they were reluctant to vote in favor of delaying enforcement of the vaccine mandate, though did so to limit disruption to in-person learning in the middle of the school year.
"I will support this because it keeps our promise to the vaccinated students in our district that we would not disrupt their education needlessly," board member Jackie Goldberg said. "To be clear, we are not moving one inch from the mandate. Not one inch, not a centimeter. We are simply saying you now have more time to do it because we want all of you to be vaccinated and safe. And also we do not want your not being vaccinated to disrupt the education of those who have complied."
Board president Kelly Gonez said voting in favor of the delay "is not a decision I am happy to make."
"But like my fellow board members, I am very enthusiastic about our vaccination progress," she continued. "I believe that this board unequivocally made the right decision in September, and it has made our schools safer, it has made our communities as a whole safer and it has saved lives."
The vote came a day after a Los Angeles Superior Court judge denied two parent groups' bid for a preliminary injunction against the student vaccine mandate, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.
The school district had also mandated that staff get both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine by Nov. 15, barring exemptions due to disability or religious belief. Last week, the school board approved the termination of nearly 500 school employees -- less than 1% of the district's approximately 73,000 employees -- who had not met the vaccination requirement, according to the Associated Press.
During its meeting Tuesday, board members also approved extending the district's student and employee vaccination policy to all district-authorized charter schools to maintain a consistent vaccine policy.
The school district is one of the few nationwide that has implemented vaccine mandates. The policies came ahead of California Gov. Gavin Newsom's announcement in October that the state will require COVID-19 vaccines for all school children ages 12-17 once the Federal Drug Administration grants full approval. The state policy includes personal exemptions, not just religious or medical.
"So there's plenty of latitude for families to make decisions," Newsom told "Good Morning America" last week. "LA is slightly different, and we're going to obviously have to work through that with that district."
"You have to work to accommodate, and I have all the confidence in the world the school board will work to accommodate," he added.