Chris Lieberman, FISM News
Washington D.C. is requiring all students in public, charter, and private schools ages 12 and up to receive the Covid-19 vaccine, in addition to all other required vaccines, in order to attend school this year. Students who refuse to comply will not be permitted to attend classes, and online learning will not be available.
“Our goal is that no child should miss a single day of school,” Asad Bandealy, the chief of the D.C. Department of Health’s Health Care Access Bureau, said at a news conference. “And that means we need to get started now.”
Beginning in the 2022-23 academic year, the district is adding the Covid-19 vaccine to the required vaccine list for age groups that have received full FDA approval. Last month, the FDA granted full approval to the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 12-16.
Students can request a religious exemption if a parent or guardian submits a note showing that receiving the vaccine would violate their religious beliefs, or a medical exemption with certification from a physician that it would be unsafe for the student to get the shot.
Students who do not get the Covid-19 vaccine or are not up to date on their other required vaccines will have 20 days after school starts to get their shots. If their vaccines are in progress but cannot be completed in that 20-day window, students will be able to attend school with a note from their doctor.
The move is expected to disproportionately affect black students. About 85% of all D.C. residents aged 12-15 have received the vaccine, but only 60% of black children in the same age range have gotten their shots.
D.C. is one of the few large school districts nationwide to require the Covid-19 vaccine in order to attend class. New Orleans has also added Covid-19 to its list of required vaccines. New York strongly encourages but does not require the shot, except for certain contact sports, musical theater, and other activities deemed “high-risk.” California initially planned to add Covid-19 to its list of required vaccines this school year but has delayed the requirement until next year to give more time for implementation.
Historically, D.C. schools have been lax in enforcing vaccine requirements. However, if the district begins to strictly enforce its mandates this year, it could exacerbate the learning loss of students who have just endured two and a half years of remote learning.
As FISM previously reported, the lockdowns and remote learning caused by the Covid-19 pandemic have increased chronic absenteeism and negatively affected students’ behavior and mental health. Minority and low-income students in particular have seen major learning losses.
Absenteeism, disengagement, and falling behind in academics all increase the odds that students will become disengaged and drop out of school, which has disastrous consequences on a student’s future. According to one study, only 30% of students who drop out of school re-enroll, and of that group, only 18% end up graduating. Failing to graduate high school, in turn, leads to bleak job prospects, with nearly half of all jobs in the country requiring a high school diploma.