Vaccine mandate to be enforced next year

Benjamin Chait

The DC Council student COVID-19 vaccination mandate recently went into effect, but will not be enforced until the beginning of the 2022-23 school year. However, Jackson-Reed has yet to take any action against students or teachers who refuse a vaccination.

The legislation, called the Coronavirus Immunization of School Students and Early Childhood Workers Amendment Act, requires that students be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or obtain an exemption to attend school. The act contains a clause preventing schools from enrolling students without a COVID-19 vaccination certificate or exemption.

In a statement to the community, Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh says that the mandate intends to “protect the health of the students receiving the vaccine, help reduce student and staff exposure to the virus while at school, and protect family members who live or interact with students at home.” According to Communications Director of Cheh’s office Kelly Whittier, DCPS will announce how the act will be administered closer to enforcement, which will begin in fall of 2022. 

All DCPS teachers were required to be vaccinated on February 15. However, according to Bargeman, there has been no method for implementing consequences if teachers chose not to get the vaccine. 

No specific policies are being implemented to record COVID-19 vaccination. “Vaccine immunization has always been one of the things we deal with every year, it wouldn’t be anything new, just another vaccine added to the immunization list,” Interim Principal Gregory Bargeman said, adding that the act will be enforced with “the same policies as we follow for [other] vaccinations.”

The act initially required student vaccination by  December 15, but was postponed in order to allow time for the legislation to be enforced and for students to get vaccinated. 

According to DCPS deputy press secretary Deborah Isaac, the delay is to allow time for “DC Public Schools to manage certification and work to ensure families are informed of the requirements and resources for accessing immunizations.”

While the act was debated before the DC Council, the legislation’s disproportionate impact on students of color was highlighted.

“[It is] 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. 

Dr. Brian McClure, Director of the Council Office of Racial Equity (CORE), added that the legislation will disproportionately affect Black students. According to McClure, CORE analyzed the effects of the legislation, concluding that “based on the current trends, Black residents will disproportionately be removed from school” due to the legislation. The bill “has potential to improve outcomes for Black residents who get vaccinated, but for the ones who don’t, the law won’t allow them to enroll in school,” McClure said. However, McClure points out, it remains unclear if and how this will be enforced.

Bargeman says that in terms of equity, the act raises “no more concern than the other vaccines that students are supposed to get.” •