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City Employee Vaccination Rates Lag Behind School District

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By Jorge Casuso

December 6, 2021 -- Vaccination rates among School District employees are significantly higher than those among City staff, according to data provided by both City and District officials.

The difference in vaccine compliance rates is likely due to stronger resistance among police and fire department employees than among teachers, who have almost all consented to be vaccinated, according to an analysis of the data.

The City is also taking a far more tolerant stance toward unvaccinated employees than the district, which has granted few exemptions and fired those who fail to comply with the mandate.

At the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, nearly 98 percent of the approximately 1,500 employees have been vaccinated.

Of the 32 who have not, 17 were granted exemptions for medical reasons and two for religious reasons. The other 13 employees were fired "due to refusal to be vaccinated," officials said.

By comparison, 86 percent of the City's approximately 1,900 employees have been vaccinated. The remaining 11 percent have been granted exemptions and 3 percent are not in compliance.

The Fire Depatment has the lowest vaccination compliance rate among City employees, with 62 percent of the 137 employees having been vaccinated. The other 38 percent have been granted medical and religious exemptions.

The City's Police Department also has a lower vaccination rate then the City at large, with 78 percent of the Department's 390 employees having been vaccinated.

Of the remaining 22 percent, 18 percent have been granted exemptions, while 4 percent are not in compliance.

Since October 26 (three days begfore the vaccination deadline), approximately 20 City employees have taken the shot, according to an analysis of the City data.

Unlike some government entities nationwide, Santa Monica has not terminated employees who fail to comply with the vaccine mandate, said Santa Monica Mayor Sue Himmelrich.

The City has also not gone to court to force compliance, and unvaccinated employees haven't sued the City, the mayor said.

"We deal with people individually," Himmelrich said. "We aren't doing it collectively. We're counseling people who aren't (getting vaccinated).

"Our aim is compliance, not to get rid of people," Himmelrich said.

Many of the City staff members who are unvaccinated are on long term leave and are required to provide documentation showing they have been vaccinated or granted an exemption when they return, City officials said.

"Progressive discipline is underway for other non-compliant staff who are not actively on leave," said Constance Farrell, the City's spokesperson.

According to School District officials, the School Board voted in November 18 to fire 13 employees for refusing to take the shot.

All those who were fired were classified employees -- which include custodians and those working in groundskeeping -- and not teachers.

"It is extremely important for staff to be vaccinated to ensure our goal of continued in-person instruction for our students," said Gail Pinsker, the spokesperson for the District.

"Because of this and our weekly testing protocol, our positive Covid cases have been very low," she said.

The differing rate of compliance between local school employees and police and fire department employees reflects a nationwide trend.

Some police departments across the country have vowed to ignore vaccine mandates, threatened to quit or taken their case to court, according to press reports.

Last week, a Cook County judge ruled in favor of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police, granting a temporary restraining order that blocks the vaccine mandate for union members after more than 4,500 Police Department employees defied Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s vaccine order.

Others, including municipal employees in New York City, are seeking exemptions, according to data released last week.

As of last week, some 12,400 of the city's 160,500 employees -- about 7.7 percent -- had sought exemptions "on the basis of medical condition or religious objection to the mandate," according to Newsday.

Of the requests filed, 1,422 had been approved as of last Monday, 1,710 had been denied, and more than 9,000 remained to be adjudicated, Newsday reported.

While police and fire unions are fighting the mandates, teachers unions across the country are complying at a high rate.

According to the EdWeek Research Center, national survey data shows that about 90 percent of teachers have received the vaccine.

However, the vaccination rates among school staff -- which includes classified employees -- "are likely lower."

Editor's note: This report was updated at 11:50 a.m. to add an official comment from the City.

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