LAUSD uses prices to persuade students to get COVID vaccine
With a deadline for COVID-19 student vaccinations in a few days – and around 72% compliance – the Los Angeles County School Board has authorized around $ 5 million for prizes and treats as incentives, including gift cards for Amazon and Target, tickets to “Hamilton” and food trucks on campus.
Separately, officials also announced that weekly coronavirus testing for all students and adults will end when winter vacation begins in December, a massive effort that has performed 500,000 tests per week, at an estimated total cost of 350. millions of dollars.
The incentive program, already underway, is part of a larger effort to increase immunization rates by Nov. 21, a school district self-imposed deadline for students 12 and older to receive a dose of vaccine. The only choice for students aged 12 to 17 is the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Those 18 and older might choose the Moderna two-dose or Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine instead.
Students must be fully immunized by the January 10 start of the second semester – or they will not be allowed on campus. Their options would be to continue their education outside of Los Angeles Unified or move to City of Angels, an independent district study program that has struggled this year.
The incentives are primarily raffles, and anyone who complies is eligible, that is, those who are vaccinated, have an approved medical exemption, or have a rare authorized extension. Religious exemptions are not granted.
The raffle prizes also included gift cards for groceries, tickets to Disneyland, Magic Mountain and Universal Studios Hollywood, and graduation entertainment packages. Some of the money is spent centrally, but regional administrators have funds to develop their own plans. Some have brought in food trucks; Wilson High at El Sereno has logo T-shirts for every student who follows the rules.
“It’s really designed to recognize families for their efforts to engage in this greater public health initiative,” said Sara Mooney, district civic engagement coordinator. “It’s about keeping families safe and student learning. “
By approving the financial incentives at its Tuesday meeting, the school board had to waive a rule that sets “a limit of $ 40 for personal gifts to students and parents / guardians.” A report to the board estimated the rewards ranged from $ 100 to $ 350, on average. The $ 5 million is paid by taxpayers. Additional donations will be “sponsored and funded” by the donors.
The spending serves “a legitimate public and educational purpose,” according to the board’s report.
The incentives in the country’s second-largest school system look like a $ 116.5 million independent state program unveiled in May. In a series of raffles through June, vaccinated Californians were eligible to win prizes ranging from $ 50 to $ 1.5 million.
Other LAUSD efforts include expanding access to vaccines and working collaboratively with community organizations.
By January 10, “we expect that all of our students will already have their two doses, recorded and uploaded,” said Anthony Aguilar, district chief for special education, equity and education. access, during a briefing at the school board.
The number of students who have received or complied with at least one dose is around 71.9%, school board member Jackie Goldberg said based on an internal briefing. “Probably 64%” are fully vaccinated, she added. The number could be higher once families download the materials. She said the county health department “thinks we’re about 70% based on the addresses of those who live in LAUSD.”
District leaders remain hopeful. The first figures on an employee mandate were alarming, sources said; officials refused to release the information as the deadline approached. Ultimately, 97% of employees complied or obtained a medical or religious exemption.
Parents opposing the student mandate staged their latest in a series of protests on Tuesday outside the district headquarters, while others called to voice their objections. Board meetings have been closed to the public since the start of the pandemic.
A parent who called and identified himself as Wendy accused the school board of using inducements as a form of “segregation” and “humiliation.” She added that the council was trying “to isolate and target vulnerable children in front of their peers.”
For families wishing to comply with the vaccination mandate, the authorities have decided to relax certain restrictions.
The impending end of large-scale coronavirus testing will mark a turning point in what has become a signature program of the former superintendent. Austin Beutner, who resigned at the end of June.
Infections have declined considerably since starting school this fall. Tests last week revealed 74 infections among employees and 521 among students – in a school system of around 450,000 students. Of the employees, only eight close contacts were sent home to quarantine; the figure was 2,309 among students.
While concerns about a winter hike remain, officials are confident that increasing vaccination rates and other safety measures will eliminate the need for universal weekly testing.
Also in January, middle and high school students – where the vaccination mandate will be in effect – will no longer have to wear masks outside. The same will be the case for primary schools where 85% of students are vaccinated. Students aged 5 to 11 recently became eligible for vaccination, but the district is not extending its mandate to them.
In addition, elementary school students, vaccinated or not, will no longer be automatically sent home if they are close contacts of a positive coronavirus case. They can stay in school in “modified quarantine,” in which students are tested for coronavirus infection and monitored for symptoms. The goal is to keep more students in the classroom.
These changes will allow LA Unified to be broadly compliant with county and state guidelines.
Updates at Tuesday’s meeting also included a hiring report. As the first semester draws to a close, the district is short of nearly 700 teachers, about the same number as a month ago. This made frustrated board member Tanya Ortiz Franklin question whether the district should work smarter to close the gap.
The situation has been exacerbated, he was told, by the transfer of teachers with immunization waivers to the City of Angels program, where they will not interact with students or students in person. other employees.
The teacher shortage isn’t unique to LA Unified and has forced the district to make its job application process easier and faster – and to make the job itself as attractive as possible.
“The candidate’s experience is the most important element,” said Ileana Davalos, district director of human resources.
The school district is also trying to hire hundreds of classroom helpers in schools where students need help the most, as well as more than 500 counselors.