LOS ANGELES—The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has fired nearly 500 employees for refusing to comply with the district’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, while more than 34,000 students in the district are currently unvaccinated—thus facing the risk of being banned from attending in-person classes come Jan. 10.
The LAUSD Board, which has one of the strictest COVID-19 policies in the nation, unanimously voted Dec. 7 to terminate 496 unvaccinated employees. Employees were required to receive their first shot by mid-October, and to be fully inoculated by Nov. 15. Most employees who were terminated had likely been put on leave since mid-October.
“Parting ways with individuals who choose not to be vaccinated is an extremely difficult, but necessary decision to ensure the safety of all in our school communities,” Megan Reilly, the district’s interim superintendent, said in a statement. “We wish everyone the best in their future endeavors and encourage everyone to get vaccinated.”
Meanwhile, 34,000 students haven’t received their first vaccine shot, meaning they will not make the Jan. 10 deadline for full vaccination and will be banned from attending class in person.
Unlike Los Angeles County employees, LAUSD students 12 and older do not have the option to request vaccine exemption on grounds of personal beliefs, though they may receive medical exemptions.
The LAUSD said in a Nov. 22 statement that 79 percent of the approximately 600,000 students have a “complete, pending, or partial vaccination record, or qualify for conditional admission or medical exemption.”
The district also anticipated the number of vaccinated students to grow when they returned to campus on Nov. 29 and when the Dec. 19 second-dose deadline is around the corner, according to the statement.
“Los Angeles Unified’s first and second dose deadlines for eligible students 12 and older are designed to ensure students receive the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccination before the holiday season. All eligible students are expected to be fully vaccinated and have their records uploaded into Daily Pass before the start of the Spring semester on January 10,” the statement reads.
After Jan. 10, parents of those students will have to choose between putting their children in the independent study program or leaving the school district.
The LAUSD is one of several districts in the state to create their own COVID-19 vaccine policies for children before all vaccine options receive full federal approval.
As of Dec. 9, only Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine is authorized for emergency use in children age 5 and older, while Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have not yet been authorized for minors under 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.
Natalie, a mother of three, told NBC4 she is not against the vaccine, just the mandate.
“LAUSD is not above the law,” Natalie said. “This is an illegal mandate, because it is illegal to mandate an EUA, emergency use authorization, pharmaceutical.”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defined an “emergency use authorization (EUA)” as a permit issued by the FDA to facilitate the availability and use of medical treatments—such as the COVID-19 vaccines in the current pandemic—during public health emergencies.
With an EUA, “FDA may allow the use of unapproved medical products, or unapproved uses of approved medical products in an emergency to diagnose, treat, or prevent serious or life-threatening diseases or conditions when certain statutory criteria have been met, including that there are no adequate, approved, and available alternatives,” according to the FDA’s website.
Two nonprofit groups, Children’s Health Defense and Protection of the Education Rights of Kids, are challenging the mandate in the Los Angeles Superior Court. The groups brought legal action against the LAUSD in October, calling the vaccination requirement “illegal” and “unconstitutional.”
This comes after the LAUSD Board authorized approximately $5 million on Nov. 17 for prizes and treats as incentives to get vaccinated. The district’s website lists several prizes awarded each week; prizes range from access to food trucks on campus to $100 Amazon gift cards and tickets to theme parks such as Disneyland and Magic Mountain.
Earlier this week, Maribel Duarte, a mother in Los Angeles, said her son was vaccinated at Barack Obama Global Prep Academy without her consent and in exchange for pizza.
Though Duarte is vaccinated, she said she didn’t want her son to get the shot because of health issues like asthma and allergies.
Duarte also said her son was told not to discuss what happened. A school administrator, however, told NBC that the allegations were untrue.
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in October plans to require all California public-school students to be immunized against COVID-19 “when the vaccine receives full approval from the [FDA] for middle and high school grades”; however, that date is still unknown.
An LAUSD spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment by the press deadline.