A group of more than three dozen Southland community leaders and elected officials sent a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis Thursday calling for teachers and school staff to have immediate access to COVID-19 vaccines to accelerate the reopening of campuses.
"A critical part of reopening school classrooms will be creating a safe school environment, and that includes providing vaccinations to all who work in schools,'' the letter states. "This not only will protect the health and safety of the essential employees in schools, but will provide enormous benefit to children and their families, leading to a faster reopening of schools and of the economy more broadly by enabling working families to go back to work.''
The letter was signed by officials from a host of community groups, including the Alliance for Children's Rights, AltaMed Health Services, Empowering Pacific Islander Communities, Faith and Community Empowerment, Fulfillment Fund, LA's Best, Meet Each Need with Dignity and New Hope Community Church. Several elected officials also signed the letter, including Carson Mayor Lula Davis-Holmes and Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino, who this week asked the city to explore legal remedies for expediting school re-openings.
Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Wednesday the county will expand vaccine eligibility to various essential workers in the next two to three weeks, including teachers. But even when teachers become eligible for the vaccine, it will take months to get them fully vaccinated, given the extremely limited weekly allocations of doses the county receives.
Ferrer said there are more than 668,000 people in the county who work in the education sector, including teachers, support staff and day-care workers. Those workers are among roughly 1.3 million essential workers who will become eligible for the shots in the coming weeks, on top of the hundreds of thousands of health care workers and residents aged 65 and over who are already eligible and still haven't been vaccinated.
The county, however, has been receiving weekly allotments of less than 200,000 doses per week, and every person requires two doses.
The issue of vaccinating teachers and school staff has become a hot-button issue in the school-reopening debate. Newsom said Wednesday a deal could be struck with the state Legislature by the end of the week on a $6.6 billion school-reopening plan that will begin with returning small groups of younger students to campuses. He said he wants to see schools reopening during the current academic year.
But Newsom's plan has met opposition from officials in some of the state's largest school districts, including Los Angeles, Long Beach and San Diego unified, who claim the plan fails to address the needs of urban school districts and will create a "patchwork'' of safety standards while failing to provide adequate funding for some low-income schools.
LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner and leaders of the United Teachers Los Angeles union also insist that teachers and staff must be vaccinated before schools can reopen -- despite the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying vaccines shouldn't be a prerequisite for returning students to classrooms.
Beutner on Monday called for the vaccination of 25,000 people to allow the reopening of elementary school classrooms.
Under current state guidelines, schools are be permitted to reopen for younger students -- from pre-kindergarten through sixth grade -- when a county's average daily rate of new COVID-19 cases drops to 25 per 100,000 residents. According to figures updated Tuesday, Los Angeles County's state-adjusted case rate is 31.7 per 100,000 residents, down from about 38 last week.
Ferrer told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that with case numbers steadily dropping, the county will likely meet the required case-rate threshold in a matter of weeks.
Schools are already permitted to provide in-person instruction for high-need students in any grade, but only in small groups and with total in-person presence limited to 25% of a school's entire student body.
LAUSD, however, canceled all in-person instruction in December amid the winter surge in cases.
The state previously allowed schools and districts to seek waivers to provide in-person instruction for students in pre-kindergarten through second grade, but the waiver program was eliminated when Newsom released his revised school-reopening plans last month. Schools that had previously obtained the waivers are permitted to continue offering such instruction, but no others are being approved.
The LAUSD, however, never sought those waivers.