The Washington Post

D.C. charter network mandates vaccinatio­n as condition of employment

Some staff workers with Rocketship Public Schools plan to resign

- BY PERRY STEIN perry.stein@washpost.com

A D.C. charter network is requiring that all employees get vaccinated or lose their jobs, making it the largest public school network in the nation’s capital to enact such a strict vaccine mandate.

Rocketship Public Schools, a charter network with three elementary campuses in the District, informed its more than 185 employees this month that they must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 29 if they want to remain employees.

The move goes further than the vaccine rules laid out by D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), who announced last month that government employees, including

D.C. Public Schools staff, must be vaccinated or tested weekly. Her requiremen­t did not apply to the city’s 66 charter networks — which are publicly funded and privately operated and educate nearly 50 percent of the city’s public school children — though nearly all charter networks said they would adopt the same vaccine rule.

Monument Academy and Perry Street Preparator­y are two other charter networks that have mandated vaccines as a condition of employment. Seven staff members at Monument resigned due to the mandate, according to the school.

Candice Bobo, executive director of Rocketship’s D.C. campuses, said Friday that this mandate would keep the charter network’s 1,500 students — none of whom are old enough to be vaccinated — safe. In the first two weeks of the academic year, multiple unvaccinat­ed staff members have tested positive for the virus, forcing students and other unvaccinat­ed staff into quarantine.

“While I understand that for many people vaccines are a personal choice, it does impact the entire school community,” Bobo said. “It was really important for me to ensure that the adults in our school are vaccinated to protect our children.”

On Thursday, Montgomery County’s school board voted to require its 24,000 public school employees to be vaccinated as a condition of employment, no longer allowing them to opt out with testing.

Bowser said this week — before President Biden mandated that all federal government workers be vaccinated — that her administra­tion did not have any imminent plans to change its vaccine requiremen­t for city workers. Last month, a majority of the D.C. Council called on

Bowser to mandate public school employees and child-care workers be vaccinated, and eliminate the option that allows unvaccinat­ed employees to be tested weekly.

So far, 78 percent of D.C. government workers have reported their vaccinatio­n status, with 85 percent of those saying this month they are vaccinated. Local government employees have until Sept. 19 to be vaccinated, or undergo weekly testing to keep their jobs.

“We do not think that is optimal but we also know that many of our staff are giving us their status, and we are going to look at our numbers and see where we are,” Bowser said at a news conference Wednesday. “So we do not have any changes to that program to announce.”

At Rocketship, Bobo said between 70 and 80 percent of her 65 teachers are vaccinated, but she does not know the overall staff vaccinatio­n rate. She said the vaccine hesitancy among staff is similar to what is seen in the broader Washington community: mistrust in the medical establishm­ent and of a vaccine that was publicly perceived to be developed too rapidly. Bobo said she waited until the federal government fully authorized the Pfizer-biontech vaccine before she mandated a coronaviru­s vaccine.

Bobo expects most employees to get the vaccine by the deadline, though she said a small number of staff members have indicated that they plan to resign.

In the first two weeks of the academic year, 29 staff members at Rocketship’s three campuses have been asked to quarantine. Twenty-seven of those employees were unvaccinat­ed. Based on local and federal guidelines, vaccinated people who are asymptomat­ic do not have to quarantine if they come in contact with someone who has the virus. Bobo said most of these staff members were quarantine­d after they came in close contact with staff members, not students, who had the virus.

The school has needed to hire substitute­s, and rely on extra staff members that the school hired during the pandemic, to fill in for the quarantine­d staff members.

“Because of the number of staff that has remained unvaccinat­ed,” Bobo said. “It has made operating a school a challenge.”

“While I understand that for many people vaccines are a personal choice, it does impact the entire school community.” Candice Bobo, executive director of Rocketship’s D.C. campuses

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