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Most of D.C. Council calls on mayor to mandate coronavirus vaccines — without testing option — for teachers, child-care workers

D.C. Council member Christina Henderson (I-At Large) in January. She wrote a letter signed by seven other council members advocating for mandatory vaccinations for public school employees. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades for The Washington Post)

A majority of the 13 D.C. Council members signed a letter Tuesday calling on Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) to mandate coronavirus vaccines — without a testing option — for all public school employees and day-care workers.

The letter comes after the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval Monday to the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine. New York City announced Monday that all public school teachers and other workers would need to get vaccinated, a change from its previous position that staffers could be vaccinated or get tested.

Bowser issued an order earlier this month that required all city employees, including traditional public school teachers, to get vaccinated or be tested for the virus weekly. Her order did not apply to staffers at charter schools, which are publicly funded and privately operated, though nearly all the District’s charter networks said they would adopt the same policy.

The rule also did not cover child-care workers, who are typically private employees.

D.C. employees must get coronavirus vaccine or tested weekly, mayor announces

At the time, Bowser administration officials said that allowing a testing option would build trust and ultimately lead to a higher vaccination rate.

But eight D.C. Council members are calling on Bowser to go further and said mandated vaccinations would help protect unvaccinated children and ease parents’ anxieties as students head back to school while the delta variant continues to contribute to an uptick in cases.

The letter calls for the mandate to also extend to charter school employees and other city contractors, interns and grantees who interact with children.

Bowser’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon.

“As we head into the start of the school year, many parents have expressed anxiety at the uncertainties of what lies ahead for in-person learning,” read the council members’ letter. “Strong vaccination and masking protocols, in tandem with other safety measures for our public schools and child care facilities, will provide us the best chance to keep children safe and keep our schools open this year.”

Council member Christina Henderson (I-At Large) wrote the letter. It was co-signed by Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4), Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Anita Bonds (D-At Large), Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) and Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2).

With caveats, Washington Teachers’ Union say it would support a vaccine mandate

The Washington Teachers’ Union supported Bowser’s announcement that school staffers must be vaccinated or tested. The union’s president, Jacqueline Pogue Lyons, has said she would support a full mandate if the union has input over how it is enacted.

Other areas with full vaccine mandates for school employees include Los Angeles, Chicago and the states of Washington and Oregon.

If Bowser does mandate school and child-care workers to be vaccinated without a testing option, it could be akin to the mandate she set for health-care workers. She announced this month that, once a coronavirus vaccine received full federal approval, health-care workers would be exempt from being vaccinated only for religious and health reasons.

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The pandemic’s impact on education

The latest: Updated coronavirus booster shots are now available for children as young as 5. To date, more than 10.5 million children have lost one or both parents or caregivers during the coronavirus pandemic.

In the classroom: Amid a teacher shortage, states desperate to fill teaching jobs have relaxed job requirements as staffing crises rise in many schools. American students’ test scores have even plummeted to levels unseen for decades. One D.C. school is using COVID relief funds to target students on the verge of failure.

Higher education: College and university enrollment is nowhere near pandemic level, experts worry. ACT and SAT testing have rebounded modestly since the massive disruptions early in the coronavirus pandemic, and many colleges are also easing mask rules.

DMV news: Most of Prince George’s students are scoring below grade level on district tests. D.C. Public School’s new reading curriculum is designed to help improve literacy among the city’s youngest readers.