97% of LAUSD teachers, administrators meet COVID-19 vaccination deadline

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Eagle Rock, CA - August 30: Registered Nurse Priscilla V., left, gives a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine shot to Luis Nufio, an after-school coach, at Eagle Rock High School, as Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda Solis, Interim Superintendent Megan K. Reilly, School Board members Kelly Gonez and Jackie Goldberg and special guests visit Los Angeles Unified School-based mobile vaccination clinics at Eagle Rock High School on Monday, Aug. 30, 2021 in Eagle Rock, CA. All employees in the Los Angeles Unified School District must be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 15, an order that puts it at the forefront of school systems across the country that are mandating strict coronavirus safety measures for employees and students. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Registered nurse Priscilla V. administers a COVID-19 vaccination to Luis Nufio, an after-school coach, at Eagle Rock High School. About 95% of teachers union members have met a Friday vaccination deadline. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

About 97% of Los Angeles teachers and 97% administrators have so far met the school district's Friday deadline to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to information just released by the district.

The vaccine requirement applies to all Los Angeles Unified employees — about 73,000 — as well as parent volunteers and district contractors who work on campus. Employees of district-authorized charter schools also must comply.

The district information follows a Thursday night release from United Teachers Los Angeles, which indicated that about 95% of its members had, at that time, met the requirement. The union represents nurses, counselors and librarians as well as teachers.

In the Friday morning release, the district did not include numbers for all employees. Vaccination rates have been lower for non-teaching, lower-wage workers.

It is unclear how many of the remaining 3% of teachers union members, about 1,000 school employees, have received vaccine exemptions for medical or religious reasons. Anyone without at least one vaccine dose will be prohibited from campus on Monday, potentially disrupting the continuity of classroom education in the nation's second-largest school system.

The numbers represent substantial progress since late September, when about 1 in 5 district employees had not submitted documentation of vaccination.

"As we anticipated, our numbers of vaccinated staff are increasing steadily," school board President Kelly Gonez said Friday morning. "We continue to encourage all employees to get vaccinated this week. I’m confident that the flexibilities we’ve established for those who receive their first dose by October 15 will protect our employees who are making a full-faith effort to get vaccinated, while minimizing the impact to schools and services."

She added: "The vaccine mandate is top of mind for the entire system, and as a board member I have been asking for and receiving regular updates on our progress."

Since late September and until Friday morning, the school system had refused to provide updated information on employee vaccination rates. Nor has the district released information about how many workers had applied for or received either a religious or medical exemption.

In an internal communication, the union told its unvaccinated members not to assume they could transfer to the largely online City of Angels program and work remotely.

"Employees without accommodations who do not receive at least one dose of the vaccine by Oct. 15 will not be able to teach in the City of Angels online program," the communication said. "Only members who receive accommodations, along with volunteers/transfers from school sites who are vaccinated, can be assigned to the City of Angels program."

The union emphasized the importance of following through either by uploading documentation or getting a first shot.

"If you have been vaccinated but not yet provided proof to LAUSD, we encourage you to do so as soon as possible," the union stated. "Employees who do not provide proof of at least one dose of the vaccine will not be allowed on any LAUSD school or worksite after Oct. 15 and will be subject to termination unless they’ve received a medical or religious accommodation."

The union did not respond to a request for further comment. United Teachers Los Angeles represents more than 30,000 teachers, nurses, counselors and librarians.

The teachers union has endorsed mandatory vaccinations both for employees and students — and, during the prior school year, the union opposed calls to reopen campuses until all members had the opportunity to be fully vaccinated. District officials agreed to this condition and, as a result, campuses did not reopen until mid-April, later than in some other school systems.

The vast majority of teachers quickly obtained vaccinations when they became available, but a sizable minority resisted. Vaccination hesitancy has been consistently higher among members of the district's other large union: Local 99 of Service Employees International Union, which represents about 28,000 non-teaching employees, including large numbers of lower-wage workers.

The original deadline for employees to be fully vaccinated was Friday. . This week, however, Interim Supt. Megan K. Reilly extended the deadline. But employees still had to get a first shot — of any vaccine authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — by the original deadline, with full vaccination required by Nov. 15.

Local 99 pushed for the extension in contract negotiations. Early this week, the union estimated that about 80% of its members at L.A. Unified “have a record of vaccination” for at least one dose, spokeswoman Blanca Gallegos said. By the end of Thursday, that number had risen to 83%.

"However, we have heard from many members that there are still issues with uploading proof of vaccination into the district’s system, so we expect the numbers will increase once those issues are resolved," Gallegos said.

Local 99 members include food service workers, custodians, bus drivers and special education assistants.

A third union, Local 500 of California School Employees Assn., reported a vaccination rate of 93.1% Friday morning. That union represents about 3,700 clerical workers, campus financial managers, library aides and other support staff.

The school district is providing vaccine clinics through Friday at 3:30 pm and will allow employees to take time off from work to get shots. Locations include: Irvine Middle School, Roosevelt High School, Sutter Middle School, Markham Middle School, Bancroft Middle School and Webster Middle School.

L.A. Unified students 12 and older have a different timeline, but also must be vaccinated in the coming weeks. A parent has filed litigation over that requirement.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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