Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Superintendent Austin Beutner outlined a school reopening plan, which says 25,000 employees must be vaccinated in order to safely reopen elementary schools across the district for a quarter of a million students.
This announcement came prior to the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC) releasing its updated school reopening guidance on Friday, stating that vaccinating staff isn’t necessary to reopen schools.
However, in Beutner’s Feb. 8 address to the Los Angeles community, he said if reopening school is a priority, why not provide another protection by vaccinating school teachers and staff. In addition to lowing the community spread of the virus to a level the state requires for school reopening and initiating health practices and protocols in schools, vaccinating school staff is the third critical piece to reopening, he said.
Beutner added that vaccinating staff will not only provide increased safety to the employees, but it will also benefit families as it will lead to a sooner reopening of schools and thus the economy as parents will be able to attend work once again.
Beutner said a quarter of a million students are enrolled in LAUSD’s preschool and elementary schools. Therefore, in order to safely reopen all elementary schools, he said 25,000 staff members need to be vaccinated. “Vaccinating 25,000 people would allow us to reopen elementary school classrooms for 250,000 children and help their half-million plus family members,” Beutner said.
He said it’s not enough to vaccinate some staff members now and others later, as everyone in the school system is connected. For example, a school bus driver takes students to school, the school principal unlocks the building, teachers lead students in the classroom, cafeteria workers prepare lunches and custodians keep the school clean.
“Sounds simple to me,” Beutner said, though he noted that simple doesn’t mean easy. In addition to vaccinating, he said the right set of health practices need to be placed at schools. He also noted that LAUSD has already provided over a half-million COVID-19 tests to staff and students and is working to turn schools into vaccination sites.
Beutner said on Monday that the CDC guidance issued last week begins with a firm statement that the most important part of reopening schools is to ensure the health protocols and practices in place. He reiterated that LAUSD has led the nation in preparing its campuses.
He added that the CDC said the community spread of the virus matters, and right now, LASUD is located in the highest community spread transmission category. He noted that the CDC said schools must be the priority and should be the first things to open and the last things to close.
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“How can card rooms and malls be open, while schools are closed [in Los Angeles County],” Beutner questioned. “If teens can go to the mall together, surely they can be at a school and on practice fields in a supervised setting with strict health protocols, including daily temperature checks and regular COVID-19 testing. Or if the risk of the spread of the virus is too great, then let’s close the malls and keep everyone safe to reduce the spread of the virus until schools can open.”
He explained that California is providing vaccinations for cannabis delivery drivers, but not school bus drivers or teachers. “How does that make sense,” Beutner asked.
He noted that over 40 community organizations have voiced their support for immediate vaccines to school staff in a letter addressed to Gov. Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis. The letter calls on their leadership to immediately make vaccinations available for teachers and school staff, “so that students can return to school classrooms as soon as possible, in the safest way possible.”
Newsom has said school staff and teachers will be included in Phase 1B of the state’s vaccination priority list, which is expected to begin this month. It will still depend on how many vaccine doses are available in each county.