Washington Delays COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate for Students After Ruling

Washington Delays COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate for Students After Ruling
A COVID-19 vaccine in Washington in a May 6, 2021, file image. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Zachary Stieber

Officials in Washington are delaying enforcement of the school COVID-19 vaccine mandate after a federal judge struck down vaccination requirements for city workers.

Students aged 12 and older who don’t receive a COVID-19 vaccine won’t be barred from school until Jan. 3, 2023, the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) stated on Aug. 27.

Before the change, students who didn’t provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination were going to be prohibited from attending classes just 20 days after the school year started.

“Schools are not permitted to allow a student to attend more than 20 school days while the school does not have certification of immunization,” the office’s immunization attendance policy reads.

It outlines a process that kicks off when students don’t provide proof of vaccination. Their families are told initially about the impending prohibition and given another warning when the 20-day deadline gets closer.

“On the 20th school day of the 20-school day period, the School Health Team should: a. Send a final determination written notice to the parent, guardian, or adult student stating that the student is prohibited from attending school beginning the next school day,” the policy reads.

The OSSE stated that many “leaders” have been in touch about “the challenges of tracking enforcement for COVID-19 vaccinations.” The delayed enforcement date is expected to give schools and school officials “additional time to prepare and for students to get their COVID-19 vaccinations.”

The policy is different for other required immunizations. Students who don’t get one or more of them will be barred from school on Oct. 11 if they’re in fifth grade or lower, or on Nov. 4 if they’re in higher grades.

Mandate Struck Down

The change comes a day after a judge in Washington struck down Mayor Muriel Bowser’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city workers, ruling that Bowser “lacks legal authority to impose a vaccine mandate on Plaintiffs.”

No lawsuits have yet been filed against the student mandate.

Even if one is, D.C. Superior Court Judge Maurice Ross’s ruling may not affect the school mandate. That’s based on D.C. Act 24-280, an amendment to the Immunization of School Students Act of 1979 passed by the district’s city council in 2021.

The amended law requires all public schools, including public charter schools, to require students to present proof of COVID-19 vaccination.

The requirement is for age groups for whom U.S. drug regulators have approved a COVID-19 vaccine. Currently, no COVID-19 vaccines are approved for children younger than 12.

Bowser, a Democrat who backs the law, said last week that students who don’t meet the requirements won’t have an option to learn remotely, or virtually.

“We’re not offering remote learning for children, and families will need to comply with what is necessary to come to school,” she said.

Bill Pan contributed to this report.