The Culver City Unified School District has issued a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for all eligible students — believed to be the first such requirement in California — a move the district superintendent said has the overwhelming support of parents, teachers and staff members.
Children 12 and older are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, which remains under emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration. The Culver City requirement has a Nov. 19 deadline, and district officials hope the vaccine will have received full FDA approval by then.
California has ordered all K-12 school employees to be vaccinated or take weekly coronavirus tests — and a growing number of school districts, including Los Angeles Unified, are mandating employee vaccines with no testing option. A spokesperson for the state Department of Education said the office is not aware of any other student vaccine mandate among California's 1,000 school districts.
Culver City schools Supt. Quoc Tran said the student vaccine mandate was issued after safety protocol discussions with the school board, teacher and employee unions and parents — who agreed that the requirement would help protect their schools as much as possible. The district, which serves 7,100 K-12 students, has 900 employees, who also must be vaccinated. Students go back to school Thursday.
“We felt that doing the minimum is not quite good enough. We could do more,” Tran said, adding that the science and efficacy of the vaccine drove the decision. “We are in the context of constantly crowded places in school settings. The vaccine helps in case our children or staff members contract the virus. They have a lesser chance to be severely impacted.”
If COVID-19 cases have slowed significantly by November, Tran said, the district may reconsider.
“If the pandemic is tapering off at that time, then we will ease off on that requirement,” he said.
About 1 in 20 district parents, Tran estimates, are opposed to the mandate.
But Tran said the opposition does not justify withholding the policy if it can prevent a student or staff member from becoming severely sick.
"It is not a fair trade," he said. "We’re obligated to provide the best protection to our children and community.”
California has a number of school vaccine requirements, including polio, diphtheria, tetanus, measles and pertussis, but COVID-19 is not among them at this early stage. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that schools promote COVID-19 vaccinations among staff members, families and eligible students.
The COVID-19 vaccination rate for teens nationwide is lower than it is for adults. According to the CDC, 42.9% of 16- and 17-year-olds are fully vaccinated, as are 32.4% of adolescents ages 12 to 15.
In Los Angeles County, about 72% of residents ages 12 and older — more than 6.3 million — have received at least one dose of a vaccine, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. About 54% of children ages 12 to 15 have received at least one dose of a vaccine, while nearly 64% of 16- and 17-year-olds have received at least their first dose.
Several health experts expressed support for the Culver City move.
"The Culver City school district is very proactive and moving in the correct direction to require vaccination of students who are eligible as another method of protecting those students, as well as other students around them who are not eligible for vaccination," said Dr. Robert Kim-Farley, a professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.
Dr. Monica Gandhi, a professor of medicine at UC San Francisco, said that by November, a COVID-19 vaccine should have full FDA approval for adults as well as children ages 12 and older. She said she expects current data showing that the vaccines are safe and effective among adolescents will hold up, supporting the mandate.
"Parents can always request exceptions for prior COVID infection or other medical reasons, but I think the data is very sound to make this mandate at this time," Gandhi said.
Dr. Ilan Shapiro, a fellow at the American Academy of Pediatrics, said a layered approach to school safety measures — which includes vaccines and masks — is necessary at schools.
Dina Petringa is among the Culver City parents who said they were pleased with the vaccine policy along with other district requirements that include weekly coronavirus testing. Petringa, whose 15-year-old son is already vaccinated, said she is "heartened" to live in a community that is taking the virus seriously.
"I’m thrilled they're putting a vaccine mandate in Culver City Unified because I don't think masks are enough," Petringa said. "I want my son to be in school. He’s missed 18 months of his life, and he’ll never get that back. And I want him to go to school without any anxiety that he could bring back a virus that could kill his parents or his grandparents."
Erika von Euw got her 12-year-old daughter vaccinated as soon as the vaccine opened up to her age group. Now, with her daughter headed to Culver City Middle School on Thursday, Von Euw said she is grateful for the district’s decision to mandate vaccines for eligible students.
“I feel grateful for what CCUSD did," she said. "I feel that that’s the best decision."
Teriah Holten, 17, a senior at Culver City High School, agreed.
“Knowing that people are vaccinated around me will feel more comfortable,” said Holten, who is vaccinated and believes it is in the best interest of students.
“I think it'll give a lot of students an opportunity to understand that vaccinations are important,” Teriah said. “It’ll be a catalyst.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.