School COVID requirements and the controversies surrounding them largely feel like a thing of the past. But at the country’s Head Start and Early Head Start centers, which serve low-income children 5 and under, the debate has lingered, with lawsuits challenging the programs’ vaccine mandate.
The debate was settled on Friday, at least for now. A federal judge in Texas vacated the mandate, meaning it can’t be enforced anywhere in the U.S.
“This decision won’t change Head Start’s decades-long commitment to the health and safety of Head Start children, families, staff, and communities,” said Yasmina Vinci, the executive director of the National Head Start Association, a private nonprofit that advocates for and represents Head Start’s families, students and staff. “That said, we have every confidence this decision will allow programs to, at long-last, reclaim their local autonomy, which is at the foundation of what they do best: serve children and families in a safe, healthy, and community-driven manner.”
In November 2021, the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, which runs the Head Start programs, issued an “interim final rule” mandating COVID vaccination for all staff by the end of January 2022.
Opposition was swift. Within weeks of the rule’s announcement, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit against the department, challenging it as “an illegal federal mandate.” Texas was soon followed by attorneys general in two dozen other red states on behalf of Head Start staff.
Last September, a federal judge in Louisiana struck down the mandate in those 24 states.
And in Texas, the attorney general succeeded in getting a preliminary injunction soon after suing the Biden administration.
The opinion issued Friday, by Judge James Wesley Hendrix of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, makes that injunction permanent and prohibits Head Start programs in any state, territory or tribal community from requiring the vaccine.
The decision comes several months after the administration announced Head Start staff and students would no longer be required to wear a mask.
All Head Start programs are still required to have a COVID-19 mitigation strategy.
Contact Alia Wong at (202) 507-2256 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @aliaemily.