Written Testimony of Dr. Michelle Walker-Davis, Executive Director DC Public Charter School Board
Written Testimony of Dr. Michelle Walker-Davis, Executive Director
DC Public Charter School Board Hearing on School Nursing Services and the “School Student Vaccination Amendment Act of 2023”
Committee of the Whole
June 22, 2023
School Student Vaccination Amendment Act of 2023
DC PCSB supports the School Student Vaccination Amendment Act of 2023. While we believe all students, staff, and families should receive the COVID-19 vaccine, we believe requiring the vaccine annually is not the best approach for DC. Given that the COVID-19 vaccine will likely require annual boosters similar to the flu shot, we believe the best course of action is to recommend the vaccine rather than require it. We appreciate the Council altering citywide policy to reflect the changing nature of the pandemic and the current CDC guidance around annual immunizations.
Also, we need to consider how the city will engage families in late summer and into the fall to ensure they receive required immunizations and those which are highly recommended. Last summer, the city invested heavily in mobile clinics, pop up sites, and partnerships with schools. Schools reported those clinics allowed them to reach as many families as possible and increase compliance with requirements. We hope DC Health, Children’s National Hospital, and other community organizations invest in the work again as schools host back to school events for the coming school year.
DC PCSB supports the new community staffing model for Children’s School Services (CSS) school nurses. The prior system for assigning school nurses to campuses did not work for many of our LEAs, and we appreciate CSS and DC Health for trying to address inefficiencies in the current model given the realities of staffing. The new assignment model will ensure predictable coverage which allows LEA staff and students to build relationships with their nurses. Each year schools testify before Council stating the most important thing for them and their students is having a relationship with their nurse. This relationship building is key to ensuring health data is accurate and students are healthy.
We know one of the greatest challenges the school nursing program has faced is staffing shortages. This challenge is not unique to the program, every hospital and clinic across the country faces this barrier. Given the shortage and the challenge of asking one nurse to meet all the health needs of a school, public charter schools will be further negatively impacted by the federal funding loss of the Patient Care Technician (PCT) program next school year. PCTs played a critical role in supporting healthy school communities the last two years. They added health capacity to schools and supported the CSS nurses. They communicated with families about immunizations, collected data and health certificates, and then input data into the compliance system. In addition, all schools, whether or not they have a health suite, qualified to receive a PCT through OSSE. Over two dozen public charter schools, including adult schools, do not have health suites, but were able to take advantage of this OSSE program and better support their students’ health needs.
We understand the challenges associated with continuing to fund programs supported using ESSER dollars, especially as we look ahead to tighter budget years. However, we hope the Council will seriously consider finding the necessary funding to reinstate this program in the FY25 budget. Following the height of the pandemic, we all know how important immunization compliance is to keeping school communities healthy, and PCTs have been key to ensuring maximum compliance.