Emergency legislation introduced to mandate DCPS student vaccination

Hadley Carr

A bill was introduced to the DC Council on October 4, requiring all eligible students to be fully vaccinated by December 15. The legislation allows students to apply for religious or medical exemption. 

The emergency legislation was introduced by Councilmember Cristina Henderson  and requires nine votes to pass. “We need to protect community health and reduce the spread [of COVID-19],” Henderson said in the public hearing. 

In a recent public roundtable on October 24, the bill was subject to backlash due to the rushed timeline it encourages. DCPS students would have to get their first shot on November 24 in order to be fully vaccinated by December 15, creating an especially tight timeline for students ages 5-11, who are now eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine. However, Henderson acknowledged that there will likely be changes to the bill in order to accommodate the updated eligibility for the vaccine. 

“For young people, they’re not given anyone any time to get comfortable [with the idea of the vaccine],” Council Member Robert White said. Children’s Hospital Medical Director of the COVID-19 Vaccine Program Claire Boogaard also noted that given the current strain on the DC Health system, meeting the December 15 deadline would prove difficult. 

There was further discussion about the disparities in the impact of the vaccine mandate. “Students of color, who are most likely to be vaccine-hesitant.it seems untenable to plan to exclude our most vulnerable students from school, especially after almost 18 months of learning loss from the pandemic,” DC Charter Executive Director Shannon Hodge said. 

There was large support for the mandate, not only for the immediate health benefits, but also for the burden it would lift from teachers. Chancellor’s Parent Cabinet Member for Eastern High School Heather Schoell described how the Eastern’s Director of Strategy and Logistics was constantly searching for teachers to cover for those who had called in sick.

In the statement of introduction of the bill, “Coronavirus Immunization of School Students and Early Childhood Workers Amendment Act of 2021”, the inefficacy of the District’s COVID school testing program was noted as concern for the spread of COVID-19.

The statement also acknowledged the existing vaccination mandate for high school athletes by November 1, but emphasized that the measure was not adequate in mitigating the spread of COVID-19.

While she would appreciate the vaccination mandate, sophomore Peyton Holmes would find greater comfort in cleaner classroom facilities. 

However, sophomore Jesse Corn believes that a vaccination mandate will be significant in encouraging vaccination among Wilson students. 

Corn added that exemptions should be expanded to offer students a choice: “A mandate, but less strict.”•