Faced with getting the COVID-19 vaccine or losing their jobs, thousands of indecisive Los Angeles school district employees opted for a last-minute injection, allowing them access to schools as well as offices on Monday and it turned out. 99% compliance among teachers and 97% of all employees.
The high compliance rate, which includes those with an approved medical or religious exemption, eliminated the need for a longer-term contingency plan that officials released Monday in case final inoculation rates were lower – thousands. of supervisors as well as staff from the central and regional offices were deployed on campuses and classrooms. Some supervised classrooms or replaced missing custodians and food service workers. Police officers worked overtime.
Los Angeles, widely viewed as a national leader in safety measures against COVID-19, was one of the first major school districts in the nation to issue an ultimatum to all employees amid the summer Delta variant surge: get vaccinated or lose your job. The mandate came with the risk of a serious disruption in the nation’s second-largest school district, which is already struggling to fill a slew of teachers and other vacancies.
However, the strategy appears to be working as intended. Members of the administrators union rose to 99.4%. A small fraction of the teachers, about 240, apparently opted for inoculation.
“I am encouraged that the vast majority of our Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) staff have stepped up and been vaccinated to protect themselves, their families, and our schools from COVID- 19, ”said school board president Kelly Gonez. “I appreciate the work our entire system has done to provide accurate antigen information, offer multiple opportunities to get vaccinated, and create contingency plans to ensure our campuses continue to be staffed.”
The teachers’ union described the number of its members as “a strong number that we hope will continue to rise in the coming days.” Still, about 500 members of United Teachers Los Angeles, which represents more than 30,000 teachers, librarians, nurses and counselors, may lose their jobs, the union reported Monday.
The medical experts indicated that the vaccination totals are impressive and evidence of the effect that a mandate can have when a person must choose between being inoculated or keeping a job.
“Vaccine mandates have been important policy tools that have served to increase inoculation rates in many workplaces, making those settings, as well as the people who work and learn in them, safer,” stressed Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, president of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at UC San Francisco.
“LAUSD is an outstanding example to other school districts in California and across the country of how rigorous and well-applied public health measures can be implemented in the school setting,” said Dr. Robert Kim-Farley, professor of epidemiology. and community health sciences at UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.
The vast majority of teachers and administrators, as well as a large number of other workers, were vaccinated almost immediately when the antigens became widely available last March. The leadership of the employee unions was present.
But large numbers also resisted for a wide range of reasons and did not comply favorably.
A teacher, who requested anonymity, has long questioned the political decisions of the COVID era. This person has already had COVID, which gave him a degree of natural immunity, and he believes that the antigen’s success rate is too low to warrant a mandate.
“I held on as long as I could,” explained the teacher. “I’m also pragmatic enough not to waste 21 years for retirement.”
But some people stood their ground.
Among them was Jon Goodman, who identified himself as a district project manager for seven years.
On Monday, Goodman attended a rally outside Birmingham Community Charter High School in the western San Fernando Valley. The protest was part of a statewide call to arms against impending vaccination mandates for California students.
Off campus, dozens of adults and children carried signs such as “My body, my choice.” The little ones were intentionally kept out of school to affect attendance rates, but there was limited impact on the district as a whole. Average attendance has been around 90%; on Monday it was 88%, according to preliminary data. The difference could be due to a school boycott or natural fluctuation.
Goodman, 42, was holding a sign that read “LAUSD FIRED ME.”
Like other non-inoculated employees, last Friday was his last day. He argued that he unsuccessfully applied for a religious exemption.
“I am sad to go. I enjoyed my work; I’m good at it, ”Goodman said. “For me it was not a choice. I knew I was not going to get vaccinated ”.
Acting Superintendent Megan Reilly indicated that even when an employee was deemed eligible for an exemption, alternative work should be available.
Teachers had better odds than many. If their exemption was approved, they had the opportunity to be transferred to City of Angels, a remote learning program where the teacher has no face-to-face contact with students or colleagues. Each transfer typically displaced a substitute teacher or another teacher already assigned to City of Angels, who, presumably, could move to a job on campus.
Non-exempt City of Angels teachers must also be vaccinated. Becky Rotramel’s son lost his teacher.
“She was an AMAZING second grade teacher,” Rotramel wrote in an email. “This is our third teacher change in two months of school. It has been extremely disorganized and a complete headache. “
His son, he added, is “less interested because there is a lot of disorganization and he has no connection with his teachers because they keep changing.”
Mike Tansill’s son lost his third grade teacher at Beethoven Elementary on the Westside.
“We all know how difficult last year was,” said Tansill, who blames the district and the teachers union for creating a tight schedule for inoculations that caused the disruption. “I don’t think this will help this year.”
“Don’t get me wrong,” he added. “I’m totally on the side of telling teachers without a legitimate medical problem: get vaccinated or find another job.”
Among employees, the mandate took a higher price among non-teaching workers, mostly with lower salaries, which include teaching assistants, after-school and campus assistants, bus drivers, janitors, and school workers. food services. Still, rates have improved dramatically in recent days, from less than 80% to about 95% of those vaccinated or those with exemptions.
“By pushing for layoffs, the district is taking a punitive approach that will deny workers re-employment rights,” explained Max Arias, executive director of Service Employees International Union Local 99. “Many of them are the same employees who just a year ago were hailed as heroes for feeding families and supporting our communities during the pandemic.”
If employees were simply suspended indefinitely without pay, rather than being fired outright, Arias said, they could be entitled, once inoculated, to get their jobs back for up to 39 months, under the rules governing layoffs.
School police took an especially hard hit, with 43 of the 300 employees unauthorized to work as of Monday. The department is already overloaded due to vacancies as well as budget cuts, and has had to turn down some requests for school safety, added a police union official.
All excluded employees will be paid through October. All partially vaccinated workers must receive their second injection by November 15.
Overall, the day was good, said Nery Paiz, president of Associate Administrators of Los Angeles, an organization that represents directors and other supervisors.
“Considering the scale of deployment of the exercise, things are calm,” said Paiz. “We were informed from the beginning that it was not going to be perfect, but we will address issues as best we can as they arise.”
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