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The Los Angeles Unified School District has seen enrollment drop by more than 27,000 students this year as thousands of school employees who so far have not been inoculated for COVID-19 could be fired once a vaccine mandate takes effect next month while the district already struggles with staffing. 

The second largest school district in the nation measured enrollment for preschool through 12th grade on what’s referred to as “norm day,” or the fifth Friday from the start of every school year, at 439,013 students. This year, that day was Sept. 17. That marks a 6% drop from the 466,229 students who were enrolled by the “norm” day date in 2020, according to figures presented to the school board Tuesday. 

It marks the sharpest decline in years. Last year, enrollment dropped by about 4%, compared to the about 2% average steady annual drop recorded during pre-pandemic times, the Los Angeles Times reported. 

The urban school district had already been losing students steadily due to a number of factors, including high housing costs driving young families out to more suburban districts. But especially in the younger grades, 2020 saw enrollment start to dip at a higher rate as learning for kindergarteners shifted online from the usual in-person instruction. Some parents sought charted schools for their kids. 

The Los Angeles Unified School District announced earlier this month that all students 12 years of age or older will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Jan. 10, 2022, unless they are granted a medical or other exemption. 

In this Aug. 11, 2021, file photo, Joy Harrison instructs her second-graders at Carl B. Munck Elementary School, in Oakland, Calif. (Santiago Mejia/San Francisco Chronicle via AP, Pool, File)
(Santiago Mejia/San Francisco Chronicle via AP, Pool, File)

Students who fail to comply with the mandate at the start of next year will shift to online learning, while teachers and other school district employees who don’t become fully vaccinated by their swiftly approaching Oct. 15 deadline risk losing their jobs. According to figures presented to the school board Tuesday, about 12,000 employees – or one in five school district workers – have not started an immunization regimen for COVID-19. 

The district forecasts just between 70% and 80% of employees are on target to become fully vaccinated by the deadline. This comes as the district is already struggling to fill more than 2,000 vacant positions. 

And there’s a closer Oct. 3 vaccine deadline for students who wish to participate in any school-affiliated extracurricular activity outside their academic work. Any student age 12 or older involved in clubs, dance teams, band or drama must receive at least their first dose by that date. 

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