Weeks into the new school year and after hundreds of COVID-19 cases reported among schoolchildren, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser recently expanded the vaccine mandate to include teachers and staff members in the District’s public charter, private and parochial schools.
The vaccination deadline for teachers and staff members in those sectors, along with employees in childcare facilities regulated by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, falls on Nov.1.
Bowser described the updated mandate, which doesn’t have an option for weekly testing, as another layer of protection for the District’s students currently too young to receive an inoculation protecting them from COVID-19.
“It’s clear, especially for our young people who are not eligible for the vaccines yet, [that] the best way to protect them is to have the adults around them vaccinated in addition to other mitigation strategies,” Bowser said on the morning of Monday, Sept. 20.
The newly announced vaccine mandate includes religious and medical exemptions. Students 12 years and older who will participate in sports programs this year must also be vaccinated.
Sept. 19 marked the deadline for a vaccine mandate which Bowser announced last month on District employees which includes public school teachers. At the time of the announcement, Department of Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt reported an increase in COVID-19 cases among unvaccinated people between the ages of 25 and 34.
Since then, both D.C. Council members and the Charter School Alliance, among others, have requested an expansion of the vaccine mandate and a nixing of the regular testing option.
Cries for this course of action increased as hundreds of students and teachers in the public and public charter system entered quarantine.
Between August 2020 and Sept. 15, DC Health recorded 295 COVID-19 cases citywide in the public, public charter and private schools. Teachers and staff members accounted for nearly 25 percent of the cases reported to have occurred on school grounds. Within that time period, charter and private schools accounted for nearly 70 percent of the cases.
For Dr. Jeffrey Grant, CEO of Monument Academy Public Charter School in Northeast, imposing a vaccine mandate early in the school year makes the most sense.
Monument, a boarding school for middle school-aged children, incrementally allowed students back on campus throughout the pandemic. By early August, Grant told teachers and staff members that, out of concern for students who learned and lived on campus, they must have at least taken their first shot by mid-September. Shortly after, the school severed ties with seven staff members who didn’t follow through on the mandate.
“My students are going to be masked up to 23 hours a day [and] I’m not going to torture my youngest stakeholders,” Grant told The Informer. “I can’t make accommodations for exemptions because you live and work around these babies. Your body could be a host.”
Over the last few weeks, administrators at other charter schools have taken similar steps.
Howard University Middle School of Mathematics & Science mandated vaccinations, not only out of regard for students not eligible for vaccinations, but for students and staff members who teachers may pass on their way to work every morning.
As part of their campaign, administrators hosted an information session during which a science teacher delved into the specifics of the COVID-19 vaccine for teachers and parents.
“He compared it to flu shot, pneumonia and other things [and] he gave the history of it,” said Kathryn Procope, head of schools at Howard University Middle School of Mathematics & Science.
“He also gave statistics about how the virus is attacking our population more than anyone else [and] it changed the minds of people who were leery,” she said.