AASA Joins Letter to the President on Supporting COVID-Bereaved Children and Families

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AASA Joins Letter to the President on Supporting COVID-Bereaved Children and Families

Today, AASA joined over 90 health, education and community organizations in asking for the Biden Administration's leadership to support children who have lost a parent or caregiver due to COVID-19. The letter addressed the staggering loss as the nation continues to battle the ongoing pandemic, where roughly one in 450 children in America has lost a parent or caregiver as of November 17, 2021.

The letter, led by COVID Collaborative, recommended the administration to issue an Executive Order to shape a comprehensive response to support children and families who have experienced loss through states, tribal governments and localities, drawing on or expanding existing programs and COVID relief funds. Through helping lift our bereaved children and families, our nation can begin to heal the heavy burden of pain and loss.

FCC Commits Another $240 Million in Emergency Connectivity Fund Support to Connect Students, Schools and Libraries

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FCC Commits Another $240 Million in Emergency Connectivity Fund Support to Connect Students, Schools and Libraries

Today, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) announced the commitment of $240 million in its eighth wave of the Emergency Connectivity Fund program support. This funding is critical to keeping students connected for coursework and online educational resources, benefiting 12 million students across the nation and helping to close the homework gap.

AASA Executive Director Dan Domenech serves on the USAC Board, which oversees the administration of the E-Rate and ECF programs. As part of the USAC Board meeting this week, Dan was reappointed as chair of the schools and libraries subcommittee. Coming out of this week's meeting, he is committed to working with USAC and FCC leadership to ensure quick release of the remaining ECF funds so schools can put them to immediate use.

AASA Signs Letter Asking for Transparency in OT Rule

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AASA Signs Letter Asking for Transparency in OT Rule

AASA joined more than 100 employer organizations in signing a letter to Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh urging the Department of Labor (DOL) to hold stakeholder meetings prior to the development and issuance of its anticipated proposed rulemaking on the “white collar” exemptions to the overtime regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

In the letter the organizations explain, “This will be a significant rulemaking with respect to cost, difficulty in implementation and impact on the workforce, particularly given the current acute labor shortages. Our organizations urge DOL to follow past precedents and hold meetings with the regulated community to obtain input on the potential impact of any changes to the overtime exemption requirements.”

DOL would benefit from stakeholder input on the current economic situation and the potential impact new overtime regulations could have on the workforce and economy. Past administrations have held such meetings, and the employer organizations strongly urge the Biden DOL to follow suit. Given the vast increases in remote work and concerns around historic increases in inflation, it is particularly important for DOL to gather input before issuing a proposed regulation.

USED Shares Resources for Using ARP Funds to Address State & Local Personnel Shortages

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USED Shares Resources for Using ARP Funds to Address State & Local Personnel Shortages

Late last year, the U.S. Department of Education held a two-part webinar to share valuable resources to help districts address the state and local teacher and staff labor shortages. In a Dear Colleague letter from Secretary Cardona in December 2021, the Department urged the use of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds to help address the shortages, minimize in-person learning disruptions and meet students' needs. The letter detailed best practices for districts to allocate those funds accordingly.

  • The first part of the webinar focused on addressing teacher labor shortages. The recording can be found here. The presentation can be found here.
  • The second part of the webinar focused on addressing staff labor shortages. The recording can be found here. The presentation can be found here.

The following accompanying resources can be accessed to better help your district allocate those funds:

In the conclusion of the Dear Colleague letter, USED strongly encouraged the use funding under ARP to respond to the urgent needs resulting from the pandemic while beginning to plan for the investments needed to ensure that every  student has access to the qualified educators and staff they need.

The Federal School Safety Clearinghouse Will Launch New Grants Finder Tool for K-12 School Districts

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The Federal School Safety Clearinghouse Will Launch New Grants Finder Tool for K-12 School Districts

Last week, the Federal School Safety Clearinghouse team announced the launch of a new Grants Finder Tool coming in February. The new feature – part of their continued mission to promote and enhance school safety across the nation – will feature federally available school safety-related grant programs and is designed as a decision-making support tool to help schools and districts determine the eligibility and applicability of funding opportunities for their specific needs, challenges, and characteristics.

The new SchoolSafety.gov Grants Finder Tool was developed to help the K-12 community more easily find, apply for and ultimately receive school safety-related funding. The tool will simplify and streamline the federal funding search process for K-12 schools and districts by housing school safety-related grants in one centralized location, as well as providing school personnel with a variety of ways to search for and access grant opportunities from across the federal government.   

The Grants Finder Tool will offer several easy-to-use features to assist stakeholders in finding funding opportunities, no matter their level of expertise or familiarity with federal grant programs, including options to take a quiz, search pre-populated lists or filter grants by specific criteria such as funding agency, application deadline, application level of effort, intended use and school safety topic. Through the tool, individuals will also have the ability sign up for email alerts notifying them when new grant opportunities are added to the site and to stay informed when the latest federal funding opportunities become available.  

The SchoolSafety.gov team developed the Grants Finder Tool to address a direct need of the K-12 school community and with a user-first approach in mind. Direct feedback from a series of user tests – conducted with key stakeholder groups comprising K-12 schools and districts – was considered and implemented into the final design to ensure the tool best meets the needs, challenges, and priorities of the community. 

If you have any questions or would like additional information regarding the Grants Finder Tool, please contact the School Safety team at SchoolSafety@hq.dhs.gov.

AASA leads Letter to ED Asking for School Construction Extension

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AASA leads Letter to ED Asking for School Construction Extension

Today, AASA led a letter signed by thirty national education, school facilities and environmental groups to the U.S. Department of Education requesting that they provide additional timeline flexibilities to districts that are struggling to find contractors and supplies for critical school facility work related to the pandemic. Under the American Rescue Plan (ARP),  districts have until December 2024 to liquidate all their funding, but many small and medium-size districts are struggling to even get estimates for projects they need to do to improve air-quality and learning environments.

The inability to obligate ARP funding for construction projects has to do with larger economic issues outside of districts’ control such as supply chain issues, labor shortages, chip shortages, increased competition for engineers and contractors, and inflation. Given the importance of air quality and social distancing during the pandemic, it is of paramount importance that districts have the time they need to use ARP funding to protect and promote student and educator health and well-being. We hope the Department considers every tool it has to provide flexibility to districts that aim to use federal relief funds for these projects and upgrades.

USED Hosting Regional Calls with Secretary Cardona for Superintendents

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USED Hosting Regional Calls with Secretary Cardona for Superintendents

We are working with USED to set up and support a series of regional conversations for public school superintendents with Secretary Cardona and Deputy Secretary Cindy Marten. These calls will be grouped by AASA region, and AASA will email all superintendent and district administrators in each state, ahead of their scheduled call. We are also working with our state affiliates to ensure as robust a dissemination of this information as possible. Feel free to check back to the blog; we’ll be updating the dates/times/state rosters for these calls as they get locked in.

If you don’t see an email with call information ahead of your state call, reach out to Noelle Ellerson Ng (nellerson@aasa.org). 

The next call will include 3 states from AASA Region 3: Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin and is scheduled for Friday, February 4 from 1:00 PM to 1:45 PM CT/2:00 to 2:45 PM ET. We’ll be sending that call information on Monday, be on the lookout! 

We look forward to these calls, and hope you can dial in. 

 

How School Leaders Can Help Connect Families to the Expanded Child Tax Credit

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How School Leaders Can Help Connect Families to the Expanded Child Tax Credit

The Coalition on Human Needs and the Partnership for America's Children held a great resource webinar:  "How School Leaders Can Help Connect Families to the Expanded Child Tax Credit." They were joined by Superintendent Almi Abeyta and Daniel Mojica from Chelsea (Mass.) Public Schools, Deb Stein from Partnership for America’s Children and Sarah McKitterick from the Shah Foundation, who shared best practices and resources for helping families claim this critical benefit and a district’s experience conducting CTC outreach to families.

You can access an archive recording of the webinar here and the presentations here. You can read our earlier blog post about the Child Tax Credit here.

We are happy to share some related resources: 

Please contact Julia Beebe, Child Tax Credit outreach coordinator, Coalition on Human Needs, with any questions.

Visit AASA’s webinars page for more great content, including upcoming and recorded webinars.

The Child Tax Credit Day of Action is February 8! Check out their resources here.

 

COVID-19 Testing in K-12: A “How To” Webinar

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COVID-19 Testing in K-12: A “How To” Webinar

Join the U.S. Department of Education for a webinar to help schools and districts start or strengthen their school-based COVID-19 testing program, with participants including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), The Rockefeller Foundation and others.
 
This will be an opportunity to ask questions and hear directly technical experts and school and district leaders who are regularly testing, including around:
  1. Why is testing in schools important?
  2. What should I know before I start?
  3. What are some resources that can help me get started?
  4. What is Test to Stay and how are other schools doing it?
USED will offer this webinar on Fridays, January 21, 28 and February 4 from 1:30-2:30 p.m. EST. There will be a Q&A session for 20 minutes afterwards for those with additional questions. 
 
Register for the webinar here.
 
Last week, the Biden-Harris Administration announced new actions and released additional resources to increase COVID-19 testing in schools:
 
 

Updated Guidance on Implementing ESEA Programs Without Complete NSLP Data

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Updated Guidance on Implementing ESEA Programs Without Complete NSLP Data

The Department of Education released an updated fact sheet on implementing ESEA programs without complete National School Lunch Program (NSLP) data from SY20-21 and SY21-22. The guidance provides some additional options for state education agencies (SEAs) and local education agencies (LEAs) to calculate eligibility and allocations that are usually based on NSLP data.

Most notable for district leaders are alternate measures to use for Title I allocations within LEAs. To the extent that NSLP data from SY20-21 and SY21-22 are not available, for SY22-23 LEAs may use:

  • Medicaid or TANF data or a composite of data from these two sources from SY20-21 for SY21-22 within-LEA allocations or from SY21-22 for SY22-23 within-LEA allocations;
  • The best available NSLP data, which may be from SY19-20;
  • NSLP data from SY20-21 or SY21-22 that may be accessible (e.g., counts of children identified through direct certification, which may be adjusted by 1.6 for within LEA allocations to account for the lack of household applications);
  • A combination of the best available NSLP data from SYs 19-20, 20-21, and 21-22;
  • A composite of the NSLP, Medicaid, and TANF data listed in the previous bullets; or
  • Data from a poverty survey conducted by the SEA or LEA that replicate NSLP, Medicaid, or TANF data.

The guidance also includes other measures that SEAs may use to calculate children from low-income families for the Rural and Low-Income School Program, Title I and II allocations for specials LEAs, Title I allocations for small LEAs and reporting and accountability.  

Additionally, the document clarifies that under waivers issued by USDA for school year 2021-2022, the At-Risk Afterschool Meals Component of Child and Adult Care Food Program may operate simultaneously with the SSO during the regular school year. 

It’s Easier Than You May Think to Use ESSER Money for Personnel

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It’s Easier Than You May Think to Use ESSER Money for Personnel

We are sharing a memo from our friends at CCSSO that is intended to clarify district confusion about the ability to use ESSER funding for employee compensation, including the requirements to abide by time distribution records or time and effort records. This memo provides examples of when these records are and are not required.

For example, if an employee spends part of its time coordinating COVID-19 testing and another part of its time fundraising, ESSER can only pay for the time spend on COVID-19 testing and could charge that time to ESSER funding. The LEA would need time distribution records to verify ESSER was only charged for the time spent on allowable activities. According to ED, however, such situations involving a combination of allowable and unallowable activities will be rare. Instead, most employees compensated with ESSER funds will work on activities that could all be charged to ESSER should the LEA choose to. When an employee works entirely on allowable ESSER activities – that is, when ESSER could pay for all of the activities an employee works on – SEAs and LEAs do not need to distinguish between activities and ED guidance states no time distribution records are required.

If superintendents were worried about the required paperwork associated with charging employee time to ESSER, we hope this memo, which was approved by USED, reassures you that it may not be as administratively challenging as you think.

New GAO Report Finds School Districts in Socially Vulnerable Communities Faced Heightened Challenges after Recent Natural Disasters

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New GAO Report Finds School Districts in Socially Vulnerable Communities Faced Heightened Challenges after Recent Natural Disasters

Today, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report that found chronic underinvestment in school facilities has left schools vulnerable to natural disasters, prolonging closures and putting states on the hook for billions of dollars. According to the report, school districts serving high proportions of children and families who are low income, people of color, English learners or living with disabilities are the most impacted by natural disasters and often do not have sufficient resources to prepare facilities for disasters or repair facilities damaged by disasters.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Public Assistance program and the Department of Education's Immediate Aid to Restart School Operations program may provide assistance to lessen the financial burden and provide emotional, academic, financial and physical lifting to get schools back on track. However, the report also found that, due to deferred maintenance, many low-income school districts could lose out on that federal disaster recovery assistance, which can be partially withheld from districts to account for the state of facilities before a natural disaster. 

Read the highlights from the report here. The full report is available here.

A Note for Superintendents, From Secretary Cardona

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A Note for Superintendents, From Secretary Cardona

The following note was sent to superintendents following a call with Sec. Cardona on January 7.

 Dear Superintendents,

Thank you all for joining my conversation with the Surgeon General, CDC, and White House. An hour out of your day, on the first week back after break, is asking a lot and is not lost on me. I continue to be grateful for your commitment to solving these challenging issues and keeping students and staff safe – and hopefully in the classroom in-person.

We know needs and concerns are changing rapidly, and everyone is working tirelessly to respond, balancing what we’ve learned, the latest science, students’ academic needs, and everyone’s mental health and safety concerns.

The Department will continue to host conversations with you and your colleagues. As was mentioned on the call, we’re beginning virtual regional roundtables shortly and want to ensure there is always an open line of communication. We continue to hear about the impacts of educators and other school staff shortages due to COVID-19. We are committed to supporting you in addressing these shortages and urge you to use resources from the American Rescue Plan Act Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) to ensure that students have access to the teachers and other critical staff they need to support their success during this critical period.

Since we spoke, Biden-Harris Administration announced new actions to increase COVID-19 testing in schools by:

  • Sending 5 Million No-Cost Point-of-Care Tests Per Month to Schools;
  • Providing 5 Million Additional Lab-Based PCR Tests for Free to Schools Per Month;
  • Deploying Federal Surge Testing Units to Support Free Testing Access for Students, School Staff, and Families at Community Testing Sites;
  • Connecting Schools with COVID-19 Testing Providers to Set Up School Testing Programs using American Rescue Plan Funds; and
  • New Training, Resources, and Materials for Implementing Test to Stay in Schools

In the days since, the Administration has released a number of additional resources for schools seeking COVID-19 tests, and I wanted to make sure they were easily at your fingertips:

If I could make just one ask of everyone, it’d be to host a vaccination clinic for students, staff, and families (first shots and boosters!) in January. We know the vaccine is safe and effective and our best defense against COVID. Additionally, following the CDC’s guidance, those who are vaccinated do not need to participate in Test to Stay if a close contact tests positive. Instead, if they’re asymptomatic, students and staff can safely remain masked in school in-person. This eases the testing burden and allows everyone to safely remain in school.

Thank you for everything you’re doing. It’s not easy, but your dedication is inspiring.  

White House Announces Increased investment in COVID-19 Testing at K12 Schools

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White House Announces Increased investment in COVID-19 Testing at K12 Schools

Today, the White House announced it will be expanding its investments in COVID-19 testing at K12 schools by:

  • Sending 5 Million No-Cost Point-of-Care Tests Per Month to Schools. 
  • Providing 5 Million Additional Lab-Based PCR Tests for Free to Schools Per Month
  • Deploying Federal Surge Testing Units to Support Free Testing Access for Students, School Staff, and Families at Community Testing Sites.
  • Connecting Schools with COVID-19 Testing Providers to Set Up School Testing Programs using American Rescue Plan Funds. 
  • New Training, Resources, and Materials for Implementing Test to Stay in Schools.

In a Dear Colleague letter, Secretary Cardona outlined new and existing resources from the federal government that can help you access tests and implement testing programs in your schools. The letter recommended:

  • Using your state's COVID-19 testing program(s) and resources, funded by the CDC Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity (ELC) program,
  • Accessing free lab-based testing through the CDC Operation Expanded Testing (OpET) program,
  • Connecting with school COVID-19 testing vendors, and
  • Partnering with a community COVID-19 testing site near your school that your students and staff can use.

In response to today’s announcement about expanded support for COVID-19 testing in schools, Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association, issued the following statement:

“We applaud this announcement. School superintendents across the nation have been working tirelessly this school year to ensure as robust of an in-person educational opportunity as possible in the current COVID environment, and today’s news is a critical expansion of one of the mitigation strategies schools and system leaders are increasingly relying on: Testing.

“The plan relies on a blended approach of testing supports: Distributing 5 million free, rapid tests to schools each month; providing 5 million additional PCR tests for free to schools each month; organizing surge testing units to support expanded testing needs in communities; working with states and outside organizations to connect schools with testing providers; and distributing additional training, resources and materials related to last month’s Test to Stay policy update.

“These resources are a welcome opportunity for school system leaders working to expand and strengthen the role of testing in their schools’ COVID mitigation work.” 

Full details in the White House press release. You can find Sec. Cardona's full Dear Colleague letter here. Find the AASA press release here.

AASA Releases Survey Findings on School-Based Vaccination Clinics

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AASA Releases Survey Findings on School-Based Vaccination Clinics

During the first two weeks of December, AASA surveyed hundreds of superintendents across the U.S. to determine the prevalence of COVID-19 clinics for students in school districts. The data sought to gauge the interest of district leaders in continuing to host COVID-19 clinics and clinics for other vaccine-preventable diseases, and identifying the challenges of doing so.

Today, we are excited to release that data as two colorful infographics that we encourage you to share with your community; COVID-19 Clinics in K-12 Schools and School-Based Vaccination Programs During and Beyond the Pandemic.

Among the key findings:

  • 53% of districts respondents indicated they were currently offering COVID vaccine clinics for kids ages 5-11
  • 68% of districts respondents hosted vaccination clinics for students ages 12-17.
  • 50% of districts hosted vaccination clinics for students ages 5-11 and 12-17. 
  • 52% of district partnered with local health agencies to host vaccination clinics. 
  • 40% of superintendents indicated they would continue to hold additional or on going COVID-19 clinics for students. 

Superintendents have a critical role to play in complying with state childhood vaccination requirements, expanding the availability of required childhood vaccinations and enabling vulnerable students the opportunity to be vaccinated in school. With the introduction of this data, we hope it helps your district to implement these school-based clinics.

USDA Announces Adjustment to School Meal Reimbursement Rate

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USDA Announces Adjustment to School Meal Reimbursement Rate

On January 7, USDA announced an adjustment to school meal reimbursement rates that that will allow schools to receive 22% more for school lunches than they would under normal conditions. This move will put an estimated $750 million more into school meal programs across the nation this year, making sure federal reimbursements keep pace with food and operational costs.

School lunch reimbursement rates usually do not increase during the school year. However, this year, due to the pandemic, USDA allowed schools to benefit from the highest rates available, which are normally reserved for the USDA Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). By law, these summer rates adjust for inflation annually in January.

At the start of the 2021-2022 school year, the SFSP lunch reimbursement rate for participating schools was already 15% higher than the standard reimbursement for a free lunch. Now, because of higher food costs and other circumstances, schools will receive an additional 25 cents per lunch. This increase beings the total reimbursement rate to 22% higher than the normal rate. 

ICYMI: COVID and Staying in School Manual

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ICYMI: COVID and Staying in School Manual

Over the holiday break, USED released a new resource “2022: Staying in School In Person”. The document outlines four key strategies keep students and staff safe, healthy and ready for in-person learning, including:

1. Help Students Get Vaccinated

Vaccination is the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic, and the best way to help school communities remain in school, in-person during the pandemic. USED provides resources on how to host school-based vaccination clinics and recommends hosting family vaccine clinics and encouraging all eligible school staff, parents and family members to get vaccinated and a booster shot.

2. Implement Test to Stay and Provide Screening Testing

The document identifies the key factors in successful Test To Stay programs including frequent testing of close contacts after exposure – repeated at least twice during a seven-day period post-exposure. USED has partnered with the CDC and the Rockefeller Foundation to help districts accelerate school-based testing for students and staff. As part of this effort, the Rockefeller Foundation published a testing how-to start-up guide for schools and the CDC launched a directory and website to make it easy for schools to identify testing providers within their state.

3. Collaborate with Local Health Departments

Vaccination rates and community spread vary across states and impact decisions at a local level. Collaborating with local health departments is crucial in ensuring a coordinated and supported response to COVID in your school. At the foundation of this relationship should be meaningful, regular and consistent interactions with your local, county and state health departments so that schools are best equipped to respond to new data, pivot in response to evolving information and reassess any changed policies as needed.

4. Monitor Community Spread

The CDC has stated that although outbreaks in schools can occur, multiple studies have shown that transmission within school settings is typically lower than—or at least similar to—levels of community transmission, when prevention strategies are in place in schools. Implementing mitigation strategies at all levels of community transmission is important to keep in-school transmission low. When there are higher levels of community transmission, it is particularly important to strengthen strategies like screening testing to identify cases early.

USED Announces Joint Temporary Action with U.S. Department of Transportation to Help Address School Bus Driver Labor Shortage

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USED Announces Joint Temporary Action with U.S. Department of Transportation to Help Address School Bus Driver Labor Shortage

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced a collaborative effort with the U.S. Department of Education to address the school bus driver shortage. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), an agency within US DOT responsible for regulating the trucking industry, is giving states the option of waiving the portion of the commercial driver’s license (CDL) skills test that requires applicants to identify the “under the hood” engine components. All other components of the written and road test will remain. Drivers receiving a CDL under this temporary waiver are permitted to operate intrastate school buses only; they are not authorized to operate trucks, motorcoaches, or any other type of commercial motor vehicle requiring a CDL.  

The FMCSA waiver, which became effective Jan. 3, 2022, expires March 31, 2022. USED and US DOT hope this will alleviate some of the labor shortage challenges schools are facing to safely keep schools open for full-time, in-person learning. 

In case you missed it, AASA led a letter with 12 other national organizations in November 2021 to US DOT identifying a handful of policy changes that could help address the bus driver shortage. While this change was not one of our asks, it does represent a low-hanging fruit provision, that in coordination with longer-lasting and more substantive relief is a good first step towards providing relief. In late November, US DOT also provided flexibility to allow 3rd parties to administer both the skills and knowledge portions of the CDL, in response to our letter. Together, these are two clear indicators that US DOT is committed to supporting schools.

District Court Judge Blocks Head Start Vaccine Mandate in 24 States

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Federal District Court Judge Blocks Head Start Vaccine Mandate in 24 States

On Saturday, January 1, a federal district court blocked the Biden administration’s mandate requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for workers in all Head Start programs. The preliminary injunction by U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty of Monroe, Louisiana, in a challenge brought by 24 states, also blocks the mandate’s requirement that Head Start students age 2 or older wear masks while indoors or in close contact with others.

The injunction only applies to the 24 states involved in the case: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Wyoming and West Virginia.

It is unclear at this time whether the Biden Administration will appeal this decision. We will continue to update this post with any developments.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear two cases on January 7 regarding the Biden Administration’s efforts to increase vaccinations, including OSHA’s temporary rule requiring private employers with 100 or more workers to implement a vaccine mandate. The OSHA case may reveal how Supreme Court justices think about federal vaccine efforts, which may affect the Head Start mandates. 





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