WASHINGTON DC- Senators James Lankford (R-OK), John Thune (R-SD), and Richard Burr (R-NC) today sent a letter to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra, demanding that the department rescind its one-size-fits-all federal mask mandate for all Head Start programs. Children six months to five years old are currently eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19, but an HHS Interim Final Rule (IFR) still requires all staff and volunteers at Head Start educational facilities to be vaccinated and requires that all staff, volunteers and children two years and older must wear masks, even when outside on the playground.
“This IFR continues to be an overly rigid and inflexible rule that complicates the ability of individual Head Start programs to operate and attract staff and volunteers – although there is a preliminary injunction against the IFR in several states – and we ask that you rescind it immediately,” the senators wrote. “The nation must continue its transition to treating COVID-19 as an endemic disease and returning to a sense of normalcy, and it is high time for the Washington bureaucrats allow Head Start programs to do the same.
The Head Start program is a federal program that provides eligible low-income children with early childhood education services. Program facilities are spread across the country, and until the publication of this IFR, individual locations had been able to define and apply their own COVID-19 protocols. Although this rule has been stopped by federal courts in several states, including South Dakota, the only way to ensure it never sees the light of day is to permanently overturn it nationwide.
The letter was also signed by Senators John Barrasso (R-WY), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), John Boozman (R-AR), Mike Braun (R-IN), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WA), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Jim Risch (R-ID). Marco Rubio (R-FL), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and Thom Tillis (NC).
You can read the full letter HERE and below:
Dear Secretary Becerra:
As of November 2021, vaccine and mask mandates on the Head Start and Early Head Start programs are in effect following an Interim Final Rule (IFR) from U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS). We are writing to highlight how unnecessary these warrants continue to be and ask that this IFR be rescinded immediately.
As you know, effective January 31, 2022, this IFR requires Head Start staff and volunteers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. It also requires Head Start staff and volunteers to wear masks. But beyond those mandates, IFR also requires students two and older to wear masks despite the World Health Organization advising against mask mandates for children five and under.
Until the publication of this IFR in late 2021 – more than 18 months into the COVID-19 pandemic – individual Head Start programs across the country had the flexibility to implement their own precautions that effectively protected staff. , volunteers and students in these facilities. This flexibility gave each individual program the flexibility to establish health and safety protocols and other mitigation strategies consistent with state and local laws and recommendations that worked best for their staff, volunteers, and students. In fact, according to a December 2020 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this flexibility was effective, as the CDC found that individual programs successfully implemented recommendations that limited transmission of COVID-19. 19 in their establishments.
Enforcing inflexible federal rules on individual Head Start programs through this IFR and requiring toddlers enrolled in these programs to wear masks has even caught the attention of Congress. On May 3, 2022, the U.S. Senate passed a joint resolution providing for Congressional disapproval of this IFR by a bipartisan vote of 55 to 41, with seven Democrats supporting the resolution and opposing the IFR.
Before the resolution was considered by the Senate, President Biden unfortunately pledged to veto it. One of the main reasons for his opposition was that at the time of the Senate review, the CDC had not yet approved the vaccination of children five and under against COVID-19. However, on June 18, 2022, the CDC approved certain COVID-19 vaccines for children six months to five years old. Children of Head Start age are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine if their families wish.
This IFR continues to be an overly rigid and inflexible rule that complicates the ability of individual Head Start programs to operate and attract staff and volunteers – although there is a preliminary injunction against the IFR in several states – and we ask you to cancel it immediately. The nation must continue its transition to treating COVID-19 as an endemic disease and return to a sense of normalcy, and it is high time for bureaucrats in Washington to allow Head Start programs to do the same.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this request.