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LA Schools Want To Be Able To Provide Access To COVID-19 Vaccines

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Officials with Los Angeles Unified School District have a plan to vaccinate teachers and staff and also reopen their campuses. But the process is complicated for the country's second-largest school district. Three-quarters - three-quarters of LAUSD students are Latino. And in LA County, Latinos account for roughly half of COVID-19 deaths. So how do Latino parents know it's safe to send their kids back into in-person classes? I asked Superintendent Austin Beutner.

AUSTIN BEUTNER: We want all in the school community to know we're reopening schools in the safest way possible. That's the first piece. But the next piece has to be to provide access to the vaccination in low-income communities, which have been hardest hit by the virus. If we just look at the communities we serve, the death rates are two and three times higher than the national average. The rate of vaccination, the access to vaccine is less than half of what it might be locally. And families early on are telling us they're are a lot less likely to send their children back, not because they don't think schools are safe, but because they live in fear their child will go to school and bring the virus home. So we think schools are part of the solution. We should be running a school-based vaccination effort to provide vaccines to the families of children in our schools. So it's a twofer. We bring the vaccine to communities most in need. They will feel more comfortable having their children come back to school. And we think schools are ideally situated to be part of the solution.

MARTINEZ: So you think it's more on the state or the county to bring that peace of mind to parents.

BEUTNER: Absolutely. And Governor Newsom has set forth a set of goals that 40% of the vaccination needs to be delivered to the most impacted communities. We ought to be also saying - and by the way, if you'd like to be vaccinated, come to school with your child. We'll make sure you're vaccinated. You trust us. It's going to be safe. We've proven we can run and administer vaccination programs because we're doing it for school staff. So let us do it to help families, as well.

MARTINEZ: It's fair to say that many of those kids will come back dealing with trauma of losing family members or friends. How is LAUSD planning to offer support there?

BEUTNER: The path to recovery will include for us an unprecedented investment of almost $2 billion, not just for COVID safety protocols, but for another $200 million in mental health support. We're going to bring it all back to school together - the mental health support, the clean and safe campus, additional instruction, additional support for students with differences and disabilities - because the path to recovery starts with reopening schools. It continues with all students there. And in the months and years to come, we've got to make these investments in the people at schools who can work directly with the children who need the help most.

MARTINEZ: What has been the most difficult part of all of this for you?

BEUTNER: I think the greatest challenge for us has been to see that whole-of-government response to the issue of children. We need a coherent health, safety, public response to make sure schools are the center. It's job recovery. It's the consequence of absence from school. We know the best learning for many students, if not all students, happens in a school classroom. And the lifetime consequence could be enormous if they're not back in schools right away with as much support as possible. Why aren't we vaccinating the families who have been most impacted by the virus, who are most reluctant to send their children back because they think their children will bring the virus from school to their household? Let's vaccinate the family. That's a whole-of-government response that put schools at the center where they belong.

MARTINEZ: That's Austin Beutner, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Superintendent, thank you very much.

BEUTNER: Thank you. Appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.