The mayor’s initial vaccine requirement — which included a testing option — did not apply to public charter or private school workers nor day-care employees. But this stricter mandate applies to these nongovernment employees.
A majority of the D.C. Council has asked the mayor in recent weeks to remove the testing option and extend the vaccine mandate to charter school employees, child-care workers and other city contractors who interact with children.
Monday’s announcement will do so, making a vaccine a condition of employment, with some medical and religious exemptions.
Other D.C. government workers and contractors are still able to opt out of the city’s vaccination requirement by getting tested weekly for the virus.
Bowser (D) also announced that student-athletes 12 and older must be vaccinated by Nov. 1 to participate in school-based sports. All students — including public, private and parochial students — who turn 12 between Monday and Nov. 1 must be vaccinated by Dec. 13. Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Montgomery counties have enacted similar requirements for their student-athletes.
The District’s stricter mandate for school staff follows Montgomery County’s school district, which removed its testing option for teachers and school staff earlier this month. In Alexandria, the school board voted to call on the superintendent to propose a stricter staff vaccination mandate without a test-out option. Superintendent Gregory Hutchings Jr. said he wanted to think through the implications of such a mandate.
“Our ideas around interventions have evolved as the pandemic has evolved,” Bowser said at a news conference. “It’s very clear, especially for our young people who are not eligible for the vaccine yet, that the best way to protect them is to have the adults around them vaccinated in addition to all the other mitigation strategies that we have.”
The announcement drew immediate rebuke from the Washington Teachers’ Union, which said that the city should have negotiated a mandate with the union. Union President Jacqueline Pogue Lyons said that although she wants all teachers to be vaccinated and school buildings open, she fears that some people could be wrongly terminated. She said that she has heard reports from teachers who experienced technical glitches when they applied for medical or religious exemptions.
“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,” Lyons said in a statement. “We need to get clarity and work this out through bargaining immediately.”
But the mayor’s action received a swift applause from D.C. Council members. Council member Christina Henderson (I-At Large), who wrote the letter to the mayor calling on a stricter vaccine mandate, said this a “crucial step in the right direction to protect our students and school communities.”
The District does not have exact numbers on how many school staff members are vaccinated, because Sunday was the initial deadline for D.C. Public School employees and other city employees to report their vaccination status.
Officials have said the majority of school staff and government workers are vaccinated. As of Monday, officials have said that 87 percent of D.C. government workers have reported the information. Based on that, officials said that they know that 72 percent of all D.C. government workers are vaccinated.
The city said Monday that it has received about 475 requests from its 37,000 employees for religious exemptions from the requirement to be vaccinated or tested weekly. Of those, 419 are from the Fire & EMS Department. All of the requests are under review.
Still, the first weeks of school have shown that there are a notable number of unvaccinated school staff in charter and traditional public schools, with at least a handful of confirmed instances of unvaccinated staff contracting the virus and exposing students, putting them into quarantine.
Although D.C. charter schools were not covered by Bowser’s original mandate, nearly all the city’s 66 charter networks said they would voluntarily enact the mayor’s vaccine or weekly testing requirement. A few went further and mandated that their staff be vaccinated as a condition of employment.
KIPP DC — the city’s largest charter network that educates more than 7,000 students — said it supports the mayor’s mandate and sent an email to staff Monday afternoon informing them of the new requirement. Around 70 percent of KIPP DC employees have submitted proof of vaccination, said spokesman Adam Rupe, although the network thinks the percentage of staff members is higher.
The D.C. Charter School Alliance — the city’s main charter advocacy group — said in a statement that a majority of charter schools support the mandate, but believe “that careful coordination with the city is necessary for successful implementation.”
But the vaccine mandate could mean that some campuses will need to terminate staff members at a time when there is a national shortage of some groups of workers, including bus drivers and early child-care workers.
One charter school that already implemented a vaccine requirement, Monument Academy, said seven employees resigned because of the mandate.
Bowser’s announcement Monday applies to anyone who works with and interacts with schoolchildren, including bus drivers, security staff, cafeteria workers, before- and after-school workers, coaches and more.
Kimberly Perry, executive director of DC Action for Children, an advocacy organization that works with early child-care centers, said the group supports the mandate, though knows there is still misinformation and hesitancy about the vaccine in communities of color. She said the majority of the District’s child-care workers are women of color.
“We believe this is an opportunity for D.C. Health to really expand education and outreach efforts with this mandate,” Perry said. “We want educators and teachers to be safe, and we want our babies to be safe.”