President Biden on Thursday amplified calls for states to take more aggressive measures to keep children in school amid surging coronavirus cases, calling on governors to require vaccinations for all school employees and for districts to implement more regular testing.
In the latest iteration of the White House’s plan to combat the coronavirus pandemic, the administration will also require teachers and other employees of schools run by federal agencies to be vaccinated as part of his broad push to get the federal work force protected.
That requirement would apply to those who teach in Head Start programs, Department of Defense Schools, and schools operated by the Bureau of Indian Education. Collectively, those schools serve more than 1 million children and employ nearly 300,000 staff, according to the plan released by administration officials.
In remarks Thursday evening, during which Mr. Biden sold his plan to an American public that is divided on vaccines, he also made impassioned pleas to populations outside of his control: He implored parents to get their eligible children ages 12 and older vaccinated, and state leaders to help raise the 90 percent of the nation’s teaching force that is reportedly vaccinated to 100 percent.
“Vaccination requirements in schools are nothing new,” he said. “They work.”
Mr. Biden’s plan comes as the start of the school year has coincided with coronavirus case counts among the country’s children rising to alarming rates. The country recorded more child coronavirus cases in the past week than at any point in the pandemic, and the number of children admitted to the hospital with Covid-19 has risen to the highest levels reported to date.
According to the White House, more than half of the country’s eligible children have been vaccinated, and studies have shown that hospitalization rates for children in the least vaccinated states were nearly four times higher than in states with high vaccination rates. Currently, nine states as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have vaccination requirements for staff in K-12 schools, administration officials said.
The administration also called on all schools to continue to tap billions of dollars in funding allocated for mitigation measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including increasing regular testing in schools for students, teachers, and staff.
Both leaders of the nation’s most powerful teacher’s unions expressed support for Mr. Biden’s new plan.
Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, said the organization “strongly supports” Mr. Biden’s call for state vaccination requirements for all educators. “Educators remain committed to working together to ensure our local schools are the safest places in the community for every student, educator and family,” Ms. Pringle said in a statement.
“If we truly want to put COVID-19 behind us, we need to embrace the scientifically proven methods to keep this virus at bay: masking, testing, vaccinations and ventilation,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.