New Orleans is the first major city in the country where a school district has mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for children 5 and up, the Associated Press reports.
First announced in December, a host of schools in the city have been holding vaccination events in preparation for the February 1 deadline, according to Henderson Lewis, the Superintendent of Schools.
For parents/guardians who chose to opt-out, in compliance with state guidelines, waivers are available and the schools will work with students who aren't vaccinated.
Louisiana Health Department guidelines state that “parents can obtain waivers from any immunization simply by citing medical, religious or philosophical objections.” Eventually, everyone will have to be vaccinated or have a waiver.
Lewis said the mandate was a ”bottom-up decision” by the New Orleans public school system which is made up of mostly charter schools. Agreeing with the mandate, charter school administrators throughout the district wrote letters of support. District officials would have faced numerous obstacles if they attempted to implement the policy unilaterally Lewis said.
At the height of the omicron wave in January, one-quarter of the district's schools were closed to in-person learning, Lewis recalled.
According to city figures, 55% of all 5- to 17-year-olds in New Orleans have had at least one dose of the vaccine, in comparison to the statewide number which is 26%.
Tulane's Cowen Institute conducted a study of New Orleans parents in October and found that vaccine mandates for students were opposed by 48% and supported by 44%. Lower-income Black families were more strongly opposed, according to the study.
The latest census figures state that 60% of the city is Black and 24% of the city is in poverty.
Likithe McNeil, a 16-year old student at Warren Easton High School said she was on board with the mandate and is looking forward to returning to school after being vaccinated.
“We’ll never get back to normal if we don’t do what we need to do,” she said.