By Alysha Conner | Los Angeles Wave Newspaper
LOS ANGELES — Superintendent Austin Beutner wants to use Los Angeles Unified School District campuses to administer coronavirus vaccines and help speed-up the safe reopening of schools.
On Jan. 18, Beutner issued a request via letter to state and local health officials asking that LAUSD schools be repurposed as vaccination sites.
“There’s a unique and important benefit to having Los Angeles Unified as a vaccination partner,” Beutner said in his letter. “Doing so will help reopen schools as soon as possible, and in the safest way possible.”
“Distance-learning for many students pales in comparison to learning in a classroom, and we must find the safest path to provide in-person instruction. A critical part of reopening school classrooms will be creating a safe school environment, including providing vaccinations to people who work in schools.”
Educators have begun to receive their first round of coronavirus vaccinations as digital learning continues for students.
However, it is still unclear when the bulk of the state’s 300,000-plus teachers will have access to the vaccine.
Tens of thousands of vaccines made their way to California in late December.
Teachers and other school staff were recently included on the priority list to be vaccinated next by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC reported that as of Jan. 14, California had the lowest vaccine distribution rate in the country.
Only 38% of the 3.1 million doses delivered to the state have been administered so far.
Despite the many educators who have already received their vaccinations, they must return for the second shot before the school districts clear them.
For Pfizer-BioNTech, it is 21 days after the initial shot. And for the Moderna, it is 28 days following the first dosage.
According to the CDC, both of the COVID-19 vaccines require two doses “to get the most protection.”
School board members believe that vaccinating all of the schools’ staff will help speed the reopening of schools, but some educators think otherwise.
“I feel it’s still too early to return to campus, despite how badly I want to,” said Kevin Melbourne, an elementary school administrator. “The virus continues to spread at an alarming rate and new strands of the virus are being discovered. They’re putting teachers and staff at risk.
“Kids get the virus and don’t even realize they have it in most cases. A teacher or staff member could test positive after coming into contact with an asymptotic student. Plus, some people who took the vaccine are experiencing bad side effects. I think we should just return in August 2021,” Melbourne added.
By law, an employer can force an employee to get vaccinated and fire them if they refuse to comply.
Following the recent requirement for educators to get vaccinated, LAUSD employees reached a short-term victory regarding their health care plans.
Beutner announced Jan. 18 that LAUSD reached an agreement with its labor partners to extend the existing health benefits agreement until the end of the year.
That comes after the 2018 push to reduce long-term liabilities for employee health care by more than $6 billion.
“The extension of benefits especially recognizes the heroic efforts of food service workers, custodians, truck drivers, and other front-line essential workers who have continued to provide meals and maintain and disinfect schools even as the pandemic has shut down campuses,” said Max Arias, executive director of Service Employees International Union Local 99. “We look forward to continuing to work with Los Angeles Unified to ensure that plans for recovery and the safe reopening of schools include equitable access to health care for all who serve our school communities.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom mentioned plans to reopen schools gradually this spring.
Newsom proposed making $2 billion in funding to help the state’s elementary schools reopen next month.
But LAUSD and other school districts believe it is too soon and remain on the fence about resuming in-person learning.
Although educators have begun receiving their doses of the vaccinations, the wait continues for a vaccine that is approved for children.
Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine is currently designated for the use of people ages 16 and older.
Moderna’s is authorized for 18 years and older.
The COVID-19 vaccines have yet to be tested in children who are 12 or younger.
Once a vaccine is available for children, immunization will be required for L.A. students to attend in-person classes, Beutner said.