Should Schools Require Students to Get the Coronavirus Vaccine?

Should Schools Require Students to Get the Coronavirus Vaccine?

Were you required to receive certain vaccinations, such as those for protection against chickenpox or measles, before attending school or summer camp? Do you believe it is important for schools to require vaccinations like these to keep all students safe? Or do you think it should be up to individual families to decide?

In “Los Angeles Mandates Vaccines for Students 12 and Older,” Dana Goldstein writes about the school district’s decision to require coronavirus vaccines and how families have reacted:

Los Angeles is the first major school district in the United States to mandate coronavirus vaccines for students 12 and older who are attending class in person.

With the Delta variant ripping across the country, the district’s Board of Education voted, 6-0, to pass the measure on Thursday afternoon. The Los Angeles Unified School District is the second largest in the nation, and the mandate would eventually apply to more than 460,000 students, including some enrolled at independent charter schools located in district buildings.

The interim superintendent, Megan Reilly, said at Thursday’s board meeting that student vaccination was one way to ensure that the district’s classrooms would be able to remain open. Los Angeles had some of the country’s most extended school closures last year.

Speaking about a 12th-grade athlete whom she met during a vaccination drive, Ms. Reilly said, “We owe this child his senior year.”

Los Angeles already has a strict vaccine mandate for teachers and staff members, and the new student mandate will further increase the safety of the classroom. But it is also likely to be more divisive, with far-reaching educational repercussions.

According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, 58 percent of 12- to 18-year-olds living within the district’s boundaries have already received at least one dose of a vaccine. But polls show that many parents are hesitant to vaccinate their children against the coronavirus, raising the question of how many families will keep their children home to learn online or transfer them to schools that do not require the shots.

Leaving the classroom again could be debilitating for some students. When virtual learning was widespread last academic year, millions of children fell behind academically; the impact was largest on low-income students and students of color.

Ms. Goldstein goes on to write that not everyone is in support of the vaccine mandates:

Vaccine hesitancy in Los Angeles exists across a broad range of demographic and ideological groups, from affluent, largely white, liberal parents who oppose a range of mainstream childhood vaccination practices; to conservative activists who have specifically targeted the coronavirus vaccines; to low-income Black and Hispanic families who are wary of the medical establishment.

The article continues:

Some parents, however, are likely to oppose any mandate because no coronavirus vaccine for children ages 12 to 15 has received full government approval. The Food and Drug Administration has authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on an emergency basis for that age group and could potentially grant full approval this year. (No vaccine has been authorized in the United States for children younger than 12.)

Some public health experts and parents have raised concerns about a rare side effect of that vaccine, a heart condition called myocarditis that is known to disproportionately affect young men.

Angelica Ramos, 29, a mother of three public school students in the Baldwin Hills neighborhood of South Los Angeles, said she would either enroll her children in a charter school or home-school before vaccinating them. While she takes the pandemic seriously and supports masking, she said, she is concerned about side effects and said most of the parents she knew felt similarly.

“It shouldn’t be mandatory,” she said. “It should be our decision.”

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • What is your reaction to the decision made by the Los Angeles Unified School District? Do you believe it is an important step in keeping students and teachers safe? Or do you think parents and caregivers should be the ones to make decisions about whether students receive vaccinations?

  • Do you think more schools should have vaccine mandates? Would you want your school district to enact a mandate for students to attend in person? Why or why not?

  • According to the article, “All 50 states mandate vaccines for school attendance, such as those that protect against polio, measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox.” If that is the case, why do you think there is such resistance to requiring the coronavirus vaccine?

  • Los Angeles has chosen to require vaccinations, while providing a remote option for families that refuse them. Other districts, like New York City, have reopened schools for in-person learning without requiring vaccinations, but only offer limited online schooling for students with medical issues. Do you think one of these approaches is better than the other? If so, which one and why? What other options do you think schools should consider to keep students safe this school year?

  • Schools aren’t the only institutions that have started to require vaccines. President Biden recently moved to mandate vaccines for health care workers, federal contractors and a vast majority of federal workers, and to mandate that all companies with more than 100 workers require vaccinations or weekly testing.

    Supporters of this plan say vaccine mandates encourage more people to get vaccinated, in turn protecting the most vulnerable among us, including people with disabilities and children too young to be vaccinated. Opponents argue that it is government overreach and that individuals should be able to make decisions for themselves without risk of losing their jobs.

    What is your reaction to vaccine mandates across the public and private sectors? What are the benefits and limitations of requiring vaccinations? Are all arguments for and against such mandates equal? If not, which should we weigh more heavily?

Learn more about Student Opinion here and find all of our questions in this column. Teachers, see how you can incorporate this feature into your classroom routine here.

Students 13 and older in the United States and the United Kingdom, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.