On September 9, 2021, President Biden announced a six-part strategy to combat COVID-19. Below, we summarize the key provisions of which independent schools should be aware.
Mandatory Vaccination or Weekly Testing
As part of this comprehensive strategy, President Biden announced that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will issue an Emergency Temporary Standard for private businesses with 100 or more employees, including independent schools. As an Emergency Temporary Standard, this rule will avoid the mandatory public comment period and will be reviewed on an accelerated timeline.
Under the Emergency Temporary Standard, private businesses – including schools – will be required to ensure that either (1) their employees are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or (2) their unvaccinated employees undergo weekly COVID-19 testing and produce a negative test for COVID-19 before coming to work. As part of this plan, OSHA is also developing an Emergency Temporary Standard that will require employers to provide paid time off for the time it takes for employees to get vaccinated or to recover from any after-effects of receiving the vaccine. While OSHA has not yet issued the Emergency Temporary Standard, its publication – including additional guidance on implementing these requirements – is expected soon.
Calling on the States to Adopt Mitigation Measures for Schools
The Biden administration's September 9, 2021 announcement also includes priorities for keeping schools safe and open for in-person learning and requires all schools to consistently implement science-based prevention strategies recommended by the CDC. As part of this plan, President Biden has called on the states to require vaccination for teachers and school staff. Notably, the District of Columbia has issued just such a mandate, which is equally applicable to independent schools and public schools, as discussed here.
Similarly, the Biden administration has called on schools to set up regular COVID-19 testing of students, teachers, and staff. Testing should be offered to students who have not been fully vaccinated when community transmission is at moderate, substantial, or high levels, and to teachers and staff who have not been fully vaccinated at all times, regardless of the level of community transmission.
President Biden has also directed the Department of Education to use the resources at its disposal, including initiating investigations into states that have prohibited mask mandates, in order to assess whether such mandates discriminate against students with disabilities. To date, the Department of Education has initiated investigations into the prohibition against mask mandates at schools in Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah.