Vaccine requirement now in effect; NHSA still waiting on response

Washington, D.C. — As the Head Start Interim Final Rule with Comments (IFC) issued last fall goes into full effect today, the National Head Start Association once again urges the White House and the Administration to provide clear guidance and technical assistance to ensure Head Start children and their families retain access to critical services in a healthy and safe manner. The IFC requires masking for all children, staff, volunteers, and contractors in Head Start programs and requires vaccinations for all staff, contractors, volunteers, and partners who enter Head Start programs.

“The voices from the frontlines of Head Start coping with today’s fast-moving and unpredictable public health environment are clear: they need guidance and clarity immediately.” said NHSA Executive Director Yasmina Vinci. “Today, and every day since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Head Start programs provide a safe and healthy environment for children to achieve their potential. The IFC, without guidance or clarity from the Administration, is putting programs between a rock and a hard place. Most pressing among nationwide concerns is clarifying how to operationalize the IFC without ruining long-established, crucial partnerships that Head Start programs have with public schools, child care providers, community-based agencies, and most importantly with families.”

NHSA has reached out to the Administration multiple times since the IFC was issued and, in partnership with 48 other state Head Start associations and 11 regional Head Start associations, filed comments on December 27, 2021 asking for clarity and support in implementing the IFC. The Administration has not responded to any outreach or announced additional guidance despite the rule going into full effect today, January 31, 2022.

Further complicating implementation, the federal courts granted an injunction against the IFC, which pauses the mandates in the 25 states included in the lawsuits filed late last year. Head Start programs in those states are not required to comply while the case works its way through the courts. It is uncertain if the Administration will appeal the preliminary injunction and what the results of the lawsuit will be.

“Whether they are in a state that is required to comply or not required to comply, Head Start programs and associations in every state and territory across the country are working together to share strategies, protocols, and systems for meeting the new standard,” said NHSA’s Senior Director of State Affairs Kent Mitchell. “Despite the silence from the Administration, it is heartening to see the Head Start community continuing to work together and do everything in their power to prioritize the health and safety of children, families, and staff, ensure classrooms remain open and maintain on-the-ground partnerships. We hope additional guidance comes immediately.”

About NHSA

The National Head Start Association is committed to the belief that every child, regardless of circumstances at birth, has the ability to succeed in school and in life. The opportunities offered by Head Start lead to healthier, empowered children and families, and stronger, more vibrant communities. NHSA is the voice for more than 1 million children, 270,000 staff and 1,600 Head Start grant recipients in the United States. ••• Media Contact: Emily Wagner, Director of Communications, media@nhsa.org

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