'Difficult, but necessary': Los Angeles school board fires 500 unvaccinated employees

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LOS ANGELES — Nearly 500 Los Angeles Unified School District employees were fired this week for refusing to comply with a mandate that they get vaccinated against COVID-19, while some 34,000 students have not yet been vaccinated as required.

The school board voted 7-0 in separate motions on Tuesday to terminate 496 employees, who make up less than 1% of the district’s approximately 73,000 workers.

Most of those fired had likely been on leave since mid-October when LAUSD staffers were to have received at least their first vaccine dose, the Los Angeles Daily News reported. Employees were required to receive their second dose by Nov. 15.

“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,” interim Superintendent Megan Reilly said in a statement. “We wish everyone the best in their future endeavors and encourage everyone to get vaccinated.”

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Meanwhile, with thousands of students not yet complying with the mandate, there’s no longer enough time for kids who have not gotten their first shot to be fully inoculated by the Jan. 10 start of the second semester, the Los Angeles Times reported.

LAUSD is one of several large districts in California to adopt their own rules requiring students to get the COVID-19 vaccination, ahead of a statewide policy that will take effect after federal officials fully approve the immunizations by age group. The state policy, announced by Gov. Gavin Newsom in October, is not expected to go into place before July, but the precise date is still unknown.

Districts including San Diego Unified, Sacramento City Unified, Oakland and West Contra Costa are among those that have deadlines for student vaccine policies scheduled to take effect in early 2022. The policies vary according to district, with some allowing students to opt for weekly testing and others making the shot a requirement for in-person classes.

In Los Angeles, students who are not fully vaccinated — or exempt — will be forced into the district’s independent study program or will have to leave the Los Angeles public school system.

Shifting 34,000 students into independent study would be challenging because the program faces staffing shortages, according to the Times.

In a statement Wednesday, Los Angeles Unified said about 85% of the district’s approximately 600,000 students are in compliance with the mandate requiring those 12 and older to get their COVID-19 shots.

That percentage includes students who have received at least one vaccine dose, individuals with a medical exemption or those who qualify for conditional admission to the district, the Times reported. This last group include homeless or foster youths, students whose families are in the military and certain special education students.

Of the 496 employee dismissals, 418 were classified employees who are non-credentialed but critical staff that can include positions such as instructional aides, custodians, cafeteria workers and others.

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