WASHINGTON - D.C. is starting the school year with one of the strictest vaccination policies in the country.
The city is now increasing efforts to make sure over 20,000 students are vaccinated in the final two weeks before classes begin.
D.C. Council passed a law requiring all students over 12 to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19. In addition, schools will require students to be up-to-date on all required vaccinations, enforcing a policy leaders admit has not been strictly abided by in the past.
"I do know the schools haven’t been diligent in enforcing this for a while, so parents may think they can be lax about it this year," said Dr. Thomas Farley, Senior Deputy Director for the Community Health Administration at D.C. Health. "But this year we’re really very serious. Your child needs to be brought up to date in order to continue to attend school."
D.C. Health said about 22,000 DCPS students are currently missing a required vaccination.
Data provided by the health department shows about one in four students at both D.C. public and charter schools have been missing at least one required vaccination over the last three school years.
Farley said D.C. Health has sent 25,000 letters to parents of students who are out of compliance. This week, the department also started robocalls.
Farley said students who aren’t in compliance won’t be turned away on the first of school, due to a 20-day grace period.
Parents will need to at least begin the process of getting students their shots in that 20-day window. There will be no virtual schooling option for students who aren’t in compliance.
D.C. mom Tina Whitehead said she feels the new policy is extreme.
"I think that’s wrong," Whitehead said. "They do that, they’re going have to do virtual. They’ll have to bring it back."
Whitehead said she’s had her COVID shots, but her 11-year-old twins are hesitant.
Student Elvis Ribera told FOX 5 he’s vaxxed and ready for the new year and new policy.
"For me, I think it’s okay because we’ll be able to be more safe," Ribera said. "And we’ll be able to be together."
For more information on free vaccination options, visit DC.gov.