WASHINGTON, D.C. – In response to the Head Start Vaccine and Mask Interim Final Rule with Comments (IFC), Louisiana and 23 other states are suing the Biden administration. The IFC proposes adding new mask and vaccine requirements to the Head Start Program Performance Standards to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
“Face masks and vaccinations play a critical role in reducing the spread of COVID-19. But the rule wants it all one way and the lawsuit wants it all the other way,” said NHSA Executive Director Yasmina Vinci. “Head Start leaders are seeking the middle ground. Local programs need the flexibility to work with their staff to achieve full vaccination, within local guidelines, and with appropriate accommodations to keep classrooms open. We can’t let children lose access to crucial services because of a mandate that may be impossible for many to operationalize.”
While the multistate lawsuit cited NHSA’s recent field survey, NHSA did not play a direct role in the filing. NHSA conducts surveys of the field on a regular basis on a wide variety of topics, from trends in children’s access to healthcare to workforce shortages. Results from the recent survey about the IFC indicated that the new rule could lead to Head Start programs losing between 46,614 and 72,422—or 18% to 26%—of all staff and the closing of over 1,300 Head Start classrooms.
“Like so many sectors in our economy, Head Start and Early Head Start programs are facing an acute labor shortage. This proposed operational change hits programs where they currently hurt the most: staffing,” said Vinci. “Services to children and families cannot be delivered without staff. That’s why it is imperative for all of us to seek to balance the absolute imperative of widespread vaccination with the reality of local differences for Head Start programs across the country.”
Shortly after the IFC was announced, NHSA sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, outlining the IFC’s potential impact. NHSA plans to finalize and submit comments on the IFC on Thursday, December 23, 2021.
The National Head Start Association is a not-for-profit organization 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 grantees in the United States. Visit nhsa.org and follow @NatlHeadStart for more information.