Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser has confirmed that her city is not planning to allow remote learning for unvaccinated students, who will be blocked out of their classrooms when the new school year starts next week.
Under the city’s latest school attendance policy, children aged 12 years and older must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination within the first 20 days of the new school year to continue learning in person. The policy applies to all public, private, and independent schools.
“If the student does not come into compliance within a 20-school day period, the school must remove the student from school until the immunization certification is secured by the school,” the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) states.
When asked at a Thursday press briefing whether the city has a plan for those who are not compliant with the policy, Bowser replied that students must be vaccinated in order to attend school in person.
“They can go to school on Monday. But they need to get their vaccinations,” the mayor said, “Their families will be alerted as to the dates.”
When pressed again about whether online instruction will be made available to unvaccinated students, Bowser said the city does not offer such an opportunity.
“We’re not offering remote learning for children, and families will need to comply with what is necessary to come to school,” she said.
The mayor’s remarks come weeks after Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) failed attempt to block the city from enforcing its school vaccine mandate.
In a party-line 51–49 vote, Senate Democrats on Aug. 8 blocked Cruz’s motion, which he said would have protected the city’s mostly black unvaccinated students from being left without schooling.
“In D.C. the rate of vaccination for students 12 to 15 is 85 percent. For African American students, the rate drops to 60 percent,” Cruz said at that time. “The D.C. public schools have announced any student that is not vaccinated is not allowed to come to school. If Democrats vote no on this motion to commit, they will be voting to tell thousands of African American students in D.C., ‘You’re not allowed to come to school, your education doesn’t matter.'”
The city’s school vaccine mandate is expected to disproportionately affect the black community. The latest vaccination data suggests that, as of Wednesday, over 2,900 black students aged 12-17 have not had one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. By contrast, some 1,300 white students and less than 120 Asian and Hispanic students in that age group remain unvaccinated.
In fact, a policy analysis (pdf) conducted by the Council Office of Racial Equity stated that “enforcement of the [vaccine mandate] will exacerbate racial inequity by disproportionately removing Black students from school.”
“This may result in increased learning loss, additional negative social and educational outcomes and in blocking students from vital school resources,” the December 2021 report added.
When confronted last week by a reporter about the policy’s impact on black students, Bowser questioned whether the numbers were accurate, although they came from her own office.
“I don’t think that number is correct,” the mayor responded. “We have substantially fewer number of kids that we have to engage with vaccination. And I explained why it’s important. It’s important for the public health of our students and that we can maintain safe environments.”
The OSSE didn’t respond to a request for comments at the time of this publication.