On Sept. 9, President Joe Biden announced a six-part plan aimed at getting the COVID-19 pandemic under control.
Many of the provisions, such as vaccine mandates for federal workers and for private businesses employing more than 100 people, are unlikely to affect public schools. But several are aimed at encouraging K-12 schools to voluntarily order mask mandates for students, staff and visitors, require educators to be vaccinated, and increase COVID-19 testing.
Biden's plan for schools encourages vaccination for ages 12 and older, citing CDC studies that found "the rate of hospitalization for children was nearly four times higher in states with the lowest vaccination rates compared to states with high vaccination rates."
The FDA continues to review data to determine whether COVID-19 vaccines are safe for children younger than 12.
The president also encourages governors to require vaccinations for teachers and school staff. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is against such a mandate. At least one Texas district is requiring vaccination and the state has sued to prevent it. Abbott also asked the legislature to take up vaccine mandates in a third special session that starts Sept. 20.
Along with the more than $130 billion provided to states and school districts by the American Rescue Plan, the U.S. Department of Education is launching a new grant program to provide additional funding to school districts that have funds withheld by their state for implementing strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Biden also has directed USDE "to assess all of its available tools to take action, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, to ensure that state and local officials are giving all students the opportunity to safely participate in full-time, in-person learning." The USDE Office of Civil Rights has already launched investigations into five states that have prohibited mask mandates. It has not taken action against Texas since the Texas Education Agency is not enforcing the governor's ban on mask mandates, pending the outcome of several court cases.
The president's Path out the Pandemic also encourages schools to implement regular COVID-19 testing for students, teachers and other school staff consistent with CDC guidance. That guidance calls for testing those who are unvaccinated when community transmission is at moderate, substantial or high levels.
While Biden leaves mandatory vaccination up to states, his new vaccine requirement for federal workers will apply to Head Start and Early Head Start programs, teachers and child and youth program personnel at the Department of Defense, and teachers and staff at Bureau of Indian Education-operated schools.
With conflicting state and federal guidance and pending lawsuits on masks and vaccines, TCTA encourage members to follow their district's pandemic guidance. Members with questions or concerns about that guidance should call the Legal Department at 888-879-8282 to discuss their situation with a staff attorney.