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Plans Stall For A Vaccine Requirement In California’s K-12 Schools For Students

A sign hanging on metal fencing points the way to a vaccination site inside a LA Unified school campus.
State public health officials have announced they will delay enforcement of the K-12 vaccine mandate for a full school year — that is, until at least July 2023.
(Robyn Beck
AFP via Getty Images)
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Gov. Gavin Newsom made a big splash last fall when he announced statewide plans to require vaccines in California's public and private K-12 schools.

That plan has officially stalled.

State public health officials said late Thursday they would not enact the K-12 vaccine requirement for students 12 years and older, for at least a full school year. That means any rule will not be in effect any earlier than July 2023.

In a statement, state officials cited uncertainty about when the U.S. Food & Drug Administration will fully approve the shots for children ages 12 and older. When Newsom initially announced the mandate in October, the plan was to start the requirement for the school term that began after the vaccine got full approval for school-aged kids.

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Meanwhile, a leading state lawmaker on Thursday also backed off his own plan to enact a school vaccine mandate through the legislative process.

State Sen. Richard Pan’s proposal would’ve gone even further than the governor’s order: unlike Newsom’s executive action, Senate Bill 871 would not have allowed students or staff to seek religious or personal belief exemptions from a COVID-19 vaccination mandate.

But Pan announced he would hold SB 871, saying that state should focus on raising vaccination rates among children. In Los Angeles County, 77% of children 12 and up are fully vaccinated — and not even one-third of 5-11 year olds have received both doses.

“Until children’s access to COVID vaccination is greatly improved, I believe that a state-wide policy to require COVID vaccination in schools is not the immediate priority, although it is an appropriate safety policy for many school districts in communities with good vaccine access,” said Pan, a Sacramento Democrat and practicing pediatrician.

A handful of California school districts — notably, Los Angeles Unified, the state’s largest school system — have already announced plans for their own vaccine mandates.

Originally, L.A. Unified officials planned for the mandate to kick in last January after students returned from their winter break. But LAUSD officials delayed enforcement of the mandate after it became clear that thousands of students would’ve had to shift into online “independent study” programs — which, at the time, were already overwhelmed.

LAUSD officials plan to enforce their COVID-19 vaccine requirement next fall — a requirement that would not allow for medical or religious belief exemptions.

What questions do you have about K-12 education in Southern California?
Kyle Stokes reports on the public education system — and the societal forces, parental choices and political decisions that determine which students get access to a “good” school (and how we define a “good school”).

Corrected April 15, 2022 at 7:29 AM PDT
An earlier version of this story incorrectly included staff in the proposed mandate.