D.C. public schools are pushing back enforcement deadlines for students who fail to receive their required vaccinations, including against COVID-19.
According to the new attendance guidelines issued Friday, students age 12 or older will have until Jan. 3, 2023, to have received all the needed doses of a COVID vaccine before facing exclusion from school.
Children in pre-K through fifth grade have until Oct. 11 to complete all their routine pediatric immunizations, while students in sixth through 12th grade have until Nov. 4.
Paul Kihn, the District’s deputy mayor for education, told local school officials in a letter that the staggered approach to enforcement is meant to reduce the number of students who can be excluded from schools at any given time.
Families will be sent notices of noncompliance between one and two months before exclusion, depending on grade level.
“We have heard from many of you about the challenges of tracking enforcement for COVID-19 vaccinations, particularly given the layered 70-day implementation window since the vaccine for 12 to 15-year-old youth was fully approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in July,” Kihn wrote.
“We hope that the Jan. 3, 2023, date for first exclusions of noncompliant students will give schools and LEAs additional time to prepare and for students to get their COVID-19 vaccinations.”
D.C. Public Schools requires immunization against COVID-19 for school enrollment and attendance from all students of an age where a COVID vaccine has received full FDA approval.
Although COVID vaccines are now available for children older than 6 months through an emergency use authorization, the FDA has only granted full approval for children ages 12 and older as of late August.
In a press briefing, Kihn said the decision gives families with students age 12 and up more time to seek COVID vaccines, with the FDA’s full approval coming just weeks before classes start. Kihn also said schools will make use of the extra time to get their own records in order.
“We are working hard to ensure we’ve got accurate COVID-19 vaccination uploaded in all of our systems,” Kihn said. “Because it’s a newer vaccination, it requires a little more time and operational effort to do that. We want to make sure we’re only excluding students based on accurate information.”
State superintendent of education Christina Grant backed the updated approach.
“We think a family’s primary care provider is the best place for students to receive their annual well-child visit and their immunizations,” Grant said. “We think it’s critically important to ensure that we keep our schools safe open, and that we prevent any emergence of diseases that have proven to be eradicated across the country and in the District.”