Los Angeles Unified School District officials will require all students over the age of 12 to be fully vaccinated by January to attend any of their schools, making it the first major school district in the nation to issue such a mandate.
The decision was made Thursday by the county's Board of Education, a move made as schools across the country have turned into ideological battlegrounds with some parents and political groups pushing back against mask requirements, quarantine protocols, and other measures meant to protect children against the spread of COVID-19.
"The science is clear — vaccinations are an essential part of protection against COVID-19," LAUSD's interim superintendent Megan K. Reilly said in a statement. "The COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective and requiring eligible students to be vaccinated is the strongest way to protect our school community."
Currently, public schools in Los Angeles require daily health checks for students, as well as masks, COVID-19 testing, and other measures such as contact tracing and upgraded ventilation systems in classrooms. The new vaccination requirement comes as the country's second-largest school district is addressing a recent spike in COVID-19 cases spurred by the Delta variant of the virus, which has been increasingly impacting children.
Currently, children under the age of 12 are not eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, more than 5 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Sept. 2. In the week of Aug. 26 to Sept. 2, children made up more than 26% of all reported cases.
The cases have disrupted not only the education of children who get sick, but thousands of others who have had to stay home and quarantine after exposure.
"Our goal is to keep kids and teachers safe as possible, and in the classroom," LA County Board of Education Vice President Nick Melvoin said in a statement.
The LA mandate still allows for some children to skip the vaccination for a "medical or other exemption."
As anti-mask and anti-vaccine protests have taken place across the country, some parents have pushed back at schools' efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus, often citing false or misleading information.
Yet vaccine requirements are not new in school districts.
In LAUSD, students are already required to show proof of tetanus, polio, hepatitis B, and measles vaccines among others. And following measles outbreaks around the state several years ago, California cracked down on exemptions that were being abused by anti-vaccine parents and threatening schools' herd immunity.
In LA, students 12 years and older will be required to upload proof of their COVID-19 vaccinations into the district's system by Jan. 10, 2022.