All D.C. schools workers will need to be vaccinated against the coronavirus by November, Mayor Muriel Bowser said Monday, removing the option to submit to regular testing.
The requirement includes public and private schools, as well as day care staff, bus drivers, security staff and coaches.
The mayor’s order starts Nov. 1. There are no options to opt out.
1/ By November 1, 2021, all adults who are regularly in all schools and child care centers facilities in the District must be vaccinated against COVID-19. There is no test out option. pic.twitter.com/O0V3Kp0GQo
— Mayor Muriel Bowser (@MayorBowser) September 20, 2021
In addition, student-athletes 12 and older also have to be vaccinated by Nov. 1.
The announcement comes weeks into a school year that has left parents frustrated with inconsistent communication and school protocols.
“We know that vaccinations are the most effective tool to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect children who are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine,” Bowser said.
“This new mandate requirement, without a test-out option, will add another critical layer to the robust measures we have implemented to reopen our schools and keep our child care centers safe,” she said. We also know that sports are a high-risk activity. Requiring athletes to get vaccinated will ensure they not only stay safe, but also stay in the classroom and are able to participate in school-based extracurricular athletics.”
The vaccination requirement applies to all employees, contractors, interns and volunteers working in person in a:
- DC public school
- Public charter school
- Private school
- Parochial school
- Child care facility regulated by the Office of State Superintendent of Education (OSSE)
The requirement applies to, but is not limited to:
- Teachers, student teachers, teaching aides, substitute teachers, and teaching fellows;
- Before- and after-school teachers, program leaders, and assistants;
- Guidance counselors;
- Principals and other school leaders, program coordinators and administrators;
- Coaches, trainers, athletic directors, referees, meet or game officials, and school-based media specialists filming games and training sessions;
- Librarians and school library-based personnel;
- Technology support personnel who work in schools;
- Social workers;
- School bus drivers;
- School security personnel;
- Aides for children with special needs in schools;
- Cafeteria, janitorial, and building maintenance staff;
- Volunteers who are regularly at schools, but do not include adult students in schools.
D.C. Schools chancellor Lewis Ferebee told WTOP’s Megan Cloherty that there are 1,400 children in quarantine so far.
Neighboring Montgomery County, Maryland, is also requiring teachers and school staff to get vaccinated — with no weekly testing option for most employees. In addition, Montgomery County and Fairfax and Loudoun counties in Virginia also require vaccination for student-athletes.
“The mayor’s action today to require vaccinations for all teachers — public, charter, and private — as well as child care workers in the District of Columbia will save lives,” At-Large Council member Christina Henderson said in a statement.
“This is a crucial step in the right direction to protect our students and school communities. Prior to the start of the school year, when the FDA fully approved the Pfizer vaccine for individuals twelve years and older, I, along with seven of my colleagues asked for this mandate. I am pleased we have taken action today.”
After Bowser’s announcement, Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh praised the mayor’s decision but said there is still more that could be done.
Cheh told WTOP that eligible students should also be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and equipped schools should be regularly having lunch outdoors. She has also advocated for further clarity on quarantine protocol and vaccine clinics set up at schools.
“I don’t think her recent changes go far enough,” Cheh said, “but it’s very good that we’re advancing things, in particular, no more opt out for employees in the school system.”
In a statement, D.C. Charter School Alliance Founding Executive Director Shannon Hodge said “the vast majority of public charter schools strongly support implementing vaccine mandates for school personnel as a condition of employment, with no alternative testing option.”
“Many charter schools have already imposed these mandates. Others are prepared to do so, but feel strongly that careful coordination with the city is necessary for successful implementation. Charter school leaders and the DC Charter School Alliance are prepared to work together with Mayor Bowser, DC Public Schools, and DC Health to ensure we provide safe spaces to learn and adequately protect students and staff in the fight against COVID-19,” Hodge said.
The Washington Teachers Union said “there must be accommodations, bargained with the union, for those with legitimate religious or medical exemptions, and an agreement on how to handle people who don’t fall under these exemptions.”
The statement from the union added, “We would have hoped a vaccination mandate would be discussed with the WTU in advance, given that changes in working conditions are a mandatory subject of bargaining. We need to get clarity and work this out through bargaining immediately.”
The D.C. Council urged Bowser to drop COVID testing option for school workers in August.
In early August, Bowser said all D.C. government employees — including D.C. Public Schools teachers and staff — have until Sept. 19 to be fully vaccinated or submit to a weekly COVID-19 test. D.C. charter schools also announced a similar requirement.
A council hearing focused on the first few weeks of the school year in D.C. is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.
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