L.A. school district may mandate vaccinations for all students 12 and over

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

If I were Gavin Newsom I’d need to lie down after hearing this. One week before the recall election, his state’s biggest city decides to pull the pin on a culture-war grenade by mandating vaccinations for students?


While Larry Elder is out on the trail promising Californians that he’ll do away with mandates if they make him governor?

The LAUSD board is meeting this afternoon to decide whether to impose the mandate or not. If they do and Elder goes on to pull the upset next Tuesday, the board’s decision will become one of the great what-ifs of the recall. What if they’d waited seven more days to approve the new policy instead of giving swing-voting parents a sudden reason to want Newsom out after all?

The Times sketches the proposal:

Students would need their first vaccine dose by Nov. 21 and their second by Dec. 19 to begin the next semester fully inoculated. Those who turn 12 after those dates will have 30 days after their birthday to receive their first shot.

Students participating in in-person extracurricular activities will need both shots by the end of October. The resolution mentions “qualified and approved exemptions,” but does not offer details.

The district offers online independent study for those who opt out of in-person learning this year, but so far, only a tiny percentage of students have chosen it.

LAUSD serves more than 600,000 students, making it the second-biggest school district in the country. They did exceptionally well at preventing COVID outbreaks during summer school this year, probably because they have “the nation’s broadest school testing program, screening all students and staff members weekly,” per the NYT. (That’s the kind of result Biden wants to replicate in other districts via his new push for expanded testing in schools.) According to the LA Times, just *four* cases of COVID in LAUSD have been linked to in-school transmission so far this year.


Which raises the question: Is mandatory vaccination for students 12 and over necessary to prevent outbreaks when you’ve got as much of a handle on controlling the virus as LAUSD does?

Parents will be asking, for two reasons. One is the minuscule but real risk of heart inflammation in some children after receiving the COVID vaccine. The other is the fact that children rarely suffer severe illness after being infected. For an adult, the cost/benefit calculation of vaccination is a no-brainer: You stand to lose virtually nothing by getting the shot and may spare yourself a trip to the hospital by doing so. For kids, it’s a closer call. Some parents reason that it’s worth letting them take their chances with the virus rather than giving them a vaccine which may cause an as-yet-unknown side effect (never mind that we don’t know whether COVID itself causes long-term side effects).

All of which makes a vaccine mandate for students a touchy issue. Think of all the stories you’ve read about tempers flaring at school board meetings over a non-invasive policy like mask mandates. What sort of reaction will a policy that requires kids to get two injections provoke? Right, right, schools have required other immunizations as a condition of enrollment for decades, but some parents will point to the fact that the COVID vaccines are new as a reason to be cautious about forcing them on children. How does that end up playing in California?


It’s safe to say that it’ll play better there than it will in most U.S. states. California is heavily Democratic, of course, and Democrats are overwhelmingly pro-vaccine. The Times notes that 58 percent of students aged 12-18 in LAUSD have already had one vaccine dose. But that other 42 percent that’s holding out is nothing to sniff at. In fact, a KFF poll last month found that a majority of parents nationally did *not* want their child’s school to require them to get vaccinated:

Blacks, a key Democratic voting bloc, opposed a school vaccine mandate by a margin of more than two to one. A poll taken this week by Morning Consult finds a steady 43 percent of parents nationwide opposed to student vaccine mandates, with a sudden downturn in support for mandates just within the past 10 days:

Support for vaccinating all students before returning to the classroom went from 51 percent on August 30 to 44 percent as of Sunday. Is that just statistical noise or were some parents suddenly getting cold feet about vaccination with the school year about to begin? One would think support for vaccine mandates for kids would be rising given all the stories about pediatric hospitals filling up in COVID hot spots, but not in this survey.

No doubt there’s more support for vaccine mandates in L.A. County than there is nationwide, but it’s not going to be 90/10. And if L.A.’s school board ends up approving the policy today, less liberal parts of the state will understand that that decision may be used as a model by their own school district to try to implement mandates locally. That’s what I mean when I say Newsom should be nervous: There’s no telling how many parents were mildly opposed to the recall but now may find themselves newly interested in it with Elder vowing to go to war over mandates.


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David Strom 6:40 PM | February 29, 2024