Republican Senators Introduce Bill to End 'Highly-Politicized Vaccine Mandate' for DC Schools

Republican Senators Introduce Bill to End 'Highly-Politicized Vaccine Mandate' for DC Schools
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) speaks at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol to discuss immigration at the southern border in Washington, D.C., on June 22, 2022. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Caden Pearson

U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) on Monday introduced a bill they said is designed to protect 12- to 15-year-old students in Washington, D.C. public schools from mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations.

If enacted, their legislation would would block a 2021 bill by the D.C. Council that amended a 1979 immunization law to add COVID-19 vaccines to the required list of childhood shots.

The Republican senators said enforcement of the 2021 law would be "particularly harmful" to black students, who are at a lower vaccination rate than other students.

“D.C. public schools are blatantly discriminating against black students in our nation’s capital. The rate of vaccination for black students between the ages of 12 and 15 in Washington, D.C. is 60 percent—far lower than the city average," Cruz said in a statement.

"D.C. schools has already postponed enforcement of this racist policy until 2023 and they should simply scrap it. Until they do, I will fight for the students of D.C. and work to end this mandate.”

 A child's dose of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine is seen in Washington on Nov. 3, 2021. (Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo)
A child's dose of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine is seen in Washington on Nov. 3, 2021. (Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo)

Under the 2021 law, families are given 20 days from when they're notified about non-compliance with the mandate to get their child vaccinated, or that student will not be allowed to attend class.

Enforcement of the law was slated to begin for the 2022–2023 school year. Parents or carers were expected to send vaccine certificates to public health authorities to be passed onto the schools as proof of compliance. Vaccination certificates, or approved exemptions, would be due every March.

"No student shall be admitted by a school unless the school has certification of COVID-19 immunization for that student or the student is exempted ... provided, that this paragraph shall not be enforced until the start of School Year 2022-2023," the 2021 law states (pdf).
But because the 2021 law would alienate thousands of students who have not received a COVID-19 jab, officials delayed enforcement of the mandate until next year.

Learning Already Impacted by Lockdowns

After learning was disrupted by official measures for two years amid the pandemic, the group of Republican senators said the district's vaccine mandate risks putting students who may have been struggling before the pandemic "even further behind."

“Right now, any news organization worth its subscription fee is running story after story with evidence that the left’s forever pandemic is destroying the mental and emotional well-being of children," Blackburn said.

"Yet somehow, right here in our nation’s capital, leaders are depriving students of a basic education if they don’t comply with the District’s highly-politicized vaccine mandate. Getting vaccinated should be a decision between a patient, parent, and doctor—not politicians pressured by big teachers’ unions and radical activists."

Cruz and Blackburn's bill is supported by Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), and Roger Marshall (R-Kan.).

According to the bill (pdf), it would "prohibit the use of Federal and local funds to impose or enforce a COVID–19 vaccine mandate in District of Columbia schools, and to repeal the Coronavirus Immunization of School Students and Early Childhood Workers Regulation Amendment Act of 2021 enacted by the District of Columbia Council."