Back-to-school checklist: pencils, notebooks, vaccines


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Yessenia clung to her mother’s waist as the needle plunged into her left arm. After much pleading and persuasion from DC Health staff, the 12-year-old finally received her first dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

“I was crying for all that?” she asked. The schoolboy received a back-to-school photo on Saturday during a distribution of school supplies. The event, organized by Serve Your City/Ward 6 Mutual Aid, provided hundreds of families with Chromebook backpacks and laptops ahead of the school year. The first day of class for DC public schools is Monday.

This summer, the district urged families to meet its coronavirus vaccine requirements for children over 12, one of the few such mandates in the country. The rule, the result of legislation passed by the DC Council last year, has been criticized for its potential to keep students out of school. Children who do not comply with the mandate – or with a longstanding but historically under-enforced requirement for routine vaccinations against diseases such as polio and measles – will not be allowed to attend school, said officials.

City education officials recently decided to give families more time to catch up. Kindergarten through fifth grade students who have not received their routine pediatric vaccinations by September 7 will be notified and asked to comply by October 11. Students in grades six through 12 will be notified of the non-compliance on October 3 and must be vaccinated by November 4.

Students more than 12 people who are not fully vaccinated against the coronavirus will be alerted on November 21 and will need their vaccines by January 3 to remain in school.

DC schools extend deadlines for covid, routine immunization mandate

Some families are grateful for the extra time. But Yessenia’s mother, Anasa Wilson, has long planned to have her family vaccinated. She scheduled a date for her daughters earlier this year, but missed it. Then she struggled to reschedule.

“The school had to be closed so many times for disease outbreaks,” said Wilson, 45, who works in construction and lives in southeast Washington. Last year, her daughters attended DC public schools, but this fall they will be enrolling at Monroe School, a private school in the Northeast. She said she supports the city’s mandate. “Children are tired of being masked.”

Aaliyah and Aameria Phillips, who attend charter schools in the district, were also vaccinated on Saturday afternoon. Aameria, 13, is not a fan of city rule, however.

“That’s stupid,” she said, adding that kids who don’t want to get vaccinated should have a virtual learning option. DC Public and Charter Schools do not offer that choice to most students this school year.

Officials say enforcement of vaccination mandates is necessary to prevent outbreaks. For example, only 72% of children ages 12 to 15 have completed their first round of coronavirus vaccines, according to data released Wednesday by the city. Young people aged 16 and 17 have a vaccination rate of 76%.

DC schools to relax some covid protocols ahead of day one

These numbers, however, contain large racial disparities. Just over half of black students aged 12 to 15 are vaccinated against the coronavirus, compared to 87% of white students in this age group.

Paul Kihn, the deputy mayor for education, said he was waiting for enrollment to settle before saying how many children are behind on routine vaccinations, but earlier this summer about a quarter of the population of public and private schools was not up to date. DC Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said the pandemic has separated children from their doctors.

“So we spent a lot of time and worked with all of our suppliers to make access to the vaccine pretty transparent,” Bowser said in an interview this week. “And so we look forward to families enjoying it.”

Outside the vaccination tent, volunteers handed out 1,200 Adidas backpacks that families could fill with notebooks, pink erasers, highlighters, pencils, calculators and other essential school supplies. Around 250 people who pre-registered for the event at Audi Field received Chromebooks.

Supplies, laptops and some backpacks were funded by donations from individuals, local foundations and businesses, said Maurice Cook, executive director of Serve Your City and lead organizer of Ward 6 Mutual Aid. The DC United Foundation also provided backpacks.

Tiffany El, a direct support professional, was able to secure one of the coveted devices. The family had one last year, but it broke, she said.

“We already have to get uniforms, shoes, haircuts. It’s so much,” said El, who lives in southeast Washington. She said she hopes the city’s vaccination mandate will mean her children miss less school this year. The whole family is ready for normalcy. “It will make a big difference.”

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