Universal Masking and COVID-19 Vaccine Requirement FAQs

Find answers to common questions about the mask and vaccine requirements for Head Start programs announced in the Interim Final Rule with Comment Period (IFC). Check out this fact sheet to learn more about how these requirements will help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Read the Preamble for the research and data that informed our decision-making.

Who is included?

Q: Who is included in the vaccine requirement mandate?

A: The definition of Staff in Terms, 45 CFR §1305.2, is "paid adults who have responsibilities related to children and their families who are enrolled in programs." Consistent with that definition, "all staff" in this IFC refers to anyone who works with enrolled Head Start children and families in any capacity regardless of funding source. The term Head Start is inclusive of Head Start, Early Head Start, Migrant and Seasonal, American Indian and Alaska Native, and Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership programs.

This IFC also adds paragraph (1) to Volunteers, 45 CFR §1302.94. It requires all volunteers who are in classrooms or working directly with children other than their own to be fully vaccinated from COVID-19, except for those:

  • For whom a vaccine is medically contraindicated
  • For whom medical necessity requires a delay in vaccination
  • Who are legally entitled to a reasonable accommodation under federal civil rights laws because they have a disability or sincerely held religious beliefs, practices, or observances that conflict with the vaccination requirement

This means all outside service providers, transportation staff, and contractors who are in classrooms or working directly with children and families are included in the requirement.

Q: If staff are hired after Jan. 31, 2022, do they have to be fully vaccinated before they are hired?

A: Yes. The compliance date for the vaccine requirement is Jan. 31, 2022. However, this timing flexibility applies only to the initial implementation of this IFC and has no bearing on ongoing compliance. Therefore, anyone hired after Jan. 31, 2022, would need to either be fully vaccinated or have an approved exemption prior to hire.

Q: What if an applicant for employment is not vaccinated and does not plan to become vaccinated? Can the Head Start program deny employment based solely on that person's refusal to become vaccinated?

A: Vaccination for COVID-19 is now a requirement for all Head Start staff. Unless an employee is granted an exemption and undergoes weekly testing, the program will not be in compliance with Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS).

Q: What happens with the vaccine requirement timeline if someone is on long-term leave (e.g., maternity leave)?

A: Vaccination for COVID-19 by Jan. 31, 2022 is now a requirement for all Head Start staff, regardless of leave status. If an individual is on long-term leave, and fits the definition of staff, the vaccine requirement applies to them.

Q: Are we requiring families and children receiving home-based services to wear masks in their homes?

A: Yes, the universal masking requirement applies to all individuals 2 years of age and older when they are indoors in a setting where Head Start services are provided.

Q: Are masks required even if the individuals are vaccinated?

A: Yes, the IFC requires universal masking for all individuals ages 2 years and older, regardless of vaccination status. This is consistent with guidance on how to protect yourself and others when you’ve been fully vaccinated from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Q: Since children are not vaccinated, does this mean they will need to be masked outside?

A: Consistent with CDC guidance for operating early care and education (ECE) programs, the masking requirement outdoors applies to all individuals aged 2 and older who are not fully vaccinated, who are in crowded settings, or during activities that involve sustained close contact with other people. The Office of Head Start (OHS) notes that being outdoors with children inherently includes sustained close contact for the purposes of caring for and supervising children.

Q: If individuals do not have any contact with the children, but are paid by funds from the Head Start program, are they required to comply with the vaccine requirement?

A: Yes, the IFC requires all staff who work with enrolled Head Start children and families in any capacity be fully vaccinated for COVID-19.

Q: Does the vaccine requirement pertain to our parent Policy Council?

A: Policy Council members are not included in the vaccine requirement. While Policy Council members are volunteers, they are not volunteering in classrooms or working directly with children as the regulation specifies in 45 CFR §1302.94(a)(1).

Q: Does this rule apply to staff funded with state dollars?

A: Yes, the IFC requires all staff who work with enrolled Head Start children and families in any capacity regardless of funding source be fully vaccinated for COVID-19.

Q: Several of our Head Start teachers work collaboratively within school districts. Does this vaccine requirement apply to them, as well?

A: Yes, the IFC requires all staff who work with enrolled Head Start children and families in any capacity regardless of funding source be fully vaccinated for COVID-19.

Q: Do parents need to be vaccinated to enter the center or participate in an in-person parent engagement event? Will parents be required to be vaccinated to attend a field trip?

A: The vaccine requirement does not apply to parents unless they are Head Start staff, contractors whose activities involve contact with or providing direct services to children and families, or volunteers who work in classrooms or directly with children.

For example, if parents are chaperoning a field trip, they would be considered a volunteer – as they would be volunteering in a classroom or working directly with children. These parents would need to be vaccinated per the HSPPS regulation at 45 CFR §1302.94(a)(1).

Q: Under the home-based program option, do parents fall under the vaccine requirement when families gather for group socialization? Should programs limit group socializations to only those parents who are fully vaccinated?

A: The IFC does not require that parents attending a home-based socialization be vaccinated, although an individual program policy may require it. However, the IFC requires universal masking for all individuals 2 years of age and over when Head Start services are being provided. Using multiple layers of mitigation strategies in addition to masking, such as physical distancing and ensuring well-ventilated space, remains critically important to protect the health and safety of staff, children, and families. Programs should continue to follow CDC guidance, monitor local health conditions, and work with their Health Services Advisory Committee (HSAC) to inform their decisions.

Implementation Details

Q: When does this IFC take effect?

A: The emergency regulation is effective Nov. 30, 2021.

Q: When do Head Start programs need to comply with the mask and vaccine requirements?

A: The mask requirement is effective upon the publication of the rule.

The compliance date for the vaccine requirement is Jan. 31, 2022. This means staff, certain contractors, and volunteers must have their second dose in a two-dose series or first in a single-dose by Jan. 31, 2022. Full vaccination requires 14 days after a two-dose series such as Pfizer or Moderna, or 14 days after a single-dose series such as Johnson & Johnson. However, for purposes of this regulation, staff, certain contractors, and volunteers will meet the requirement even if they have not yet completed the 14-day waiting period required for full vaccination. This timing flexibility applies only to the initial implementation of this IFC and has no bearing on ongoing compliance.

Q: What if staff are still working virtually or remotely due to a high incidence of COVID-19?

A: Program staff need to comply with the vaccine requirement by Jan. 31, 2022, regardless of whether services are presently delivered in person, virtually, or remotely. While there is flexibility to deliver virtual or remote services during the ramp-up period for return to in-person services, OHS will not approve virtual or remote learning as a locally designed option.

Q: If a classroom needs to isolate or quarantine due to a positive COVID-19 case, will it be acceptable for those students to receive remote or virtual learning during that time?

A: All programs are expected to have plans in place to allow for changes in community conditions that may temporarily suspend in-person services. Programs may establish policies and procedures for responding to weather and disaster-related events which include implementing virtual and remote services. In these scenarios, programs may consider providing temporary virtual services until in-person operations can resume.

Q. How does the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) define "fully vaccinated" for the purposes of this requirement?

A. For purposes of this regulation, OHS considers staff fully vaccinated if it has been two weeks or more since they completed a primary vaccination series for COVID-19. Staff, certain contractors, and volunteers who have had their second dose in a two-dose series or first in a single-dose by Jan. 31, 2022, are considered to have met these requirements, even if they have not yet completed the 14-day waiting period required for full vaccination.

Q: Will the vaccine requirement also include require booster shots?

A: ACF’s definition of fully vaccinated is consistent with the CDC’s current guidance. While a booster is not currently required by the CDC to be considered fully vaccinated, it may change in the future.

Q: If unvaccinated staff are currently or were recently sick with COVID-19, do they need to comply with the vaccine requirement timeline?

A: Per the CDC, people who were treated for COVID-19 with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma, or people who have a history of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in adults or children (MIS-A or MIS-C), may need to wait a while after recovering before they can get vaccinated, which may delay their ability to get vaccinated by the Jan. 31, 2022 deadline. See the CDC FAQs about COVID-19 vaccination.

Staff members for whom medical necessity requires a delay in vaccination is an allowable medical exemption. All documentation confirming medical need for delay must be signed and dated by a licensed practitioner who is not the individual requesting the exemption and who is acting within their respective scope of practice as defined by, and in accordance with, all applicable state and local laws. Programs should encourage staff to talk with their doctor if they are unsure what treatments they received or if they have more questions about getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

Q: Is the mask requirement a permanent standard?

A: At this time, there is no set end date for the mask requirement due to the unpredictable nature of the COVID-19 pandemic. ACF plans to update or revise the masking regulation to reflect developments in the pandemic. ACF also invites comment on this issue.

Q: Is there an end date for vaccine requirement?

A: No. As of Nov. 30, 2021, vaccination for COVID-19 by Jan. 31, 2022, is a requirement in the HSPPS.

Q: What should programs do if enough staff are non-compliant with the requirements or opt to leave and the program needs to close their centers?

A: Staff vaccination requirements may result in the loss of some staff because they will not get the COVID-19 vaccine and classrooms may need to temporarily close. That said, vaccination is an important requirement which prioritizes the health and safety of staff, children, and families.

Programs are encouraged to assess staff vaccination levels and to plan for vacancies as soon as possible to allow recruitment for needed staff. Program funds, including American Rescue Plan (ARP) supplemental funding, may be used as needed to recruit and retain staff, including for paid leave to obtain the vaccine and recover from any side effects. Programs should maintain communication with their Regional Office to keep them apprised of potential classroom closures.

Q: Does the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule impact or prevent Head Start programs from asking about vaccination status?

A: Per U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) guidance, the Privacy Rule does not prohibit any person from asking whether an individual has received a particular vaccine, including COVID-19 vaccines. Find more guidance on the HHS HIPPA policy: https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/privacy/guidance/hipaa-covid-19-vaccination-workplace/index.html

Injunction Details

Q: Which states in my region are a part of the injunction?

A: States included in the injunction are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Wyoming, and West Virginia

By Region:

III – WV

IV – AL, FL, GA, KY, MS, SC, TN

V – IN, OH

VI – AR, LA, OK, TX

VII – IA, KS, MO, NE (entire region)

VIII – MT, ND, SD, UT, WY

IX – AZ

X – AK

Q: If my state is part of the injunction, can my program still enforce vaccination and masking?

A: Programs should consult their legal counsel if they are in states that ban masks or prohibit vaccine status as a condition of employment, to understand the limitations and exceptions that may exist in each state’s laws or policies.

Q: How does OHS plan to make the vaccination and masking requirement a performance standard for some states and not others?

A: The HSPPS apply to all Head Start programs. Future developments in the litigation and the issuance of the final rule will determine if there are any additional changes to the new HSPPS on vaccines and masking that are in effect. In those states not enjoined, the federal government will continue to implement the IFC.

Exemptions

Q: Are exemptions allowed to the staff vaccine requirement?

A: OHS requires programs to allow for exemptions to staff with:

  • Recognized medical conditions for which vaccines are contraindicated (as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act [ADA])
  • Sincerely held religious beliefs, observances, or practices (established under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964)

Programs should establish a process for reviewing and granting exemptions as a part of its policies and procedures and in alignment with federal law. OHS believes exemptions could be appropriate in certain limited circumstances, but no exemption should be provided to any staff for whom it is not legally required (under the ADA or Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) or who requests an exemption solely to evade vaccination.

Q: How will programs determine if an individual's request for a religious exemption is valid?

A: OHS encourages programs to review the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's Compliance Manual on Religious Discrimination for more information on religious exemptions.

Q: What is the process for staff to seek a religious exemption?

A: Programs have the flexibility to establish their own processes that permit staff to request a religious exemption from the COVID-19 vaccination requirements. OHS requires programs to ensure that requests for religious exemptions are documented and evaluated in accordance with applicable federal law and as a part of a program's policies and procedures.

Q: What is the process for staff to seek a medical exemption?

A: Similar to religious exemptions, programs have the flexibility to establish their own processes that permit staff, certain contractors, and volunteers to request a medical exemption from the COVID-19 vaccination requirements. Programs must ensure that all documentation confirming recognized clinical contraindications to COVID-19 vaccinations or medical need for delay for staff, certain contractors, and volunteers seeking a medical exemption are signed and dated by a licensed practitioner, who is not the individual requesting the exemption and is acting within their respective scope of practice based on applicable state and local laws.

Q: Is there a percentage of vaccine exemptions we can approve for our staff? For example, can we have 10% of staff with vaccine exemptions (medical or religious)?

A: No. There is no threshold for number of allowable exemptions. It is the responsibility of Head Start programs to establish a process for reviewing and reaching determinations regarding exemption requests (e.g., disability, medical conditions, sincerely held religious beliefs, practices, or observances). Programs must have a process for collecting and evaluating such requests, including the tracking and secure documentation of information provided by those staff who have requested exemption, the program's decision on the request, and any accommodations that are provided. Requests for exemptions based on an applicable federal law must be documented and evaluated in accordance with established policies and procedures, and applicable federal law.

Masking

Q: What do we do if a parent refuses to allow their child to wear a mask while in a Head Start program? Do we disenroll the child?

A: If a parent refuses to allow their child to wear a mask while at their Head Start program, the program should not disenroll the child.

The HSPPS prohibit expelling or unenrolling children from a Head Start program because of a child’s behavior in 45 CFR §1302.17, or in this case, the child’s behavior as a result of a parent’s decision. These Standards also require programs to prohibit or severely limit the use of suspension due to a child’s behavior. Programs are required to partner with families and take all possible steps to ensure the child’s successful participation in the program. OHS encourages programs to focus on educating parents and families on the importance of mask wearing as a mitigation strategy to protect the child and the safety of others.

Like all new skills, children will need to be taught the proper way to put and keep a mask on. While children are adaptable, they are still in the early stages of development and may need reminders and reinforcements to comply with this new practice. It is imperative that Head Start staff abide by the Standards of Conduct outlined in Personnel policies, 45 CFR §1302.90; namely, that staff, consultants, contractors, and volunteers implement positive strategies to support children’s well-being and do not use harsh disciplinary practices that could endanger the health or safety of children. OHS will continue to provide additional resources and supports on the universal mask requirement for children.

Q: Can OHS define the type of masks needed to comply with the rule?

A: Individuals 2 years and older should choose a mask that is comfortable to wear and fits snugly. It must cover one’s mouth, nose, and chin. It can fasten around the ears or the back of the head, as long as it stays in place when one talks and moves. Masks with vents or exhalation valves are not allowed because they allow unfiltered breath to escape the mask. For more information on masks, programs can consult CDC’s Your Guide to Masks.

Q: Can programs accept doctor’s notes for children who may need a mask exception or accommodation?

A: Exceptions to the universal mask requirement include children with special health care needs, for whom programs should work together with parents and follow the advice of the child’s health care provider for the best type of face covering. Programs are responsible for establishing policies and procedures related to the mask requirement.

Q: We know the masking requirement applies to all individuals aged 2 and older. How does this requirement apply when classrooms serve children aged 1 and 2 together? Should we separate the children into different classrooms?

A: Children should not be moved to different classrooms because of the mask requirement. There are many developmental benefits for children being together in mixed age groups, including relationship continuity between children and teachers. Teachers can create a classroom culture that supports young children wearing masks by wearing them themselves, reading social stories with masks, and providing positive supports. It is understood that 2-year-old children will not always have masks perfectly in place, that they may remove their masks at times, and that a few might really struggle to keep the mask on. No child should be shamed or punished for not wearing a mask.

Q: Should programs provide the masks for the children?

A: Masks for children, staff, and families are an allowable use of ongoing Head Start operational funds, COVID-19 response funds, and ARP funds. Programs should have masks available to provide to children when they do not have their own mask. Programs are responsible for establishing policies and procedures around the masking requirement.

Q: Are children required to mask 100% of the time in classrooms? How should programs handle situations where kids take off their masks?

A: Children should never be disciplined for not wanting to wear a mask. Treat mask-wearing as an emerging skill. Help children learn how to wear a mask consistently to be healthy and safe by showing them how to wear their mask so it fits securely over their mouth, nose, and chin. Help children find a mask that is comfortable and that they can keep on all the time. Give positive feedback to children for their efforts and keep it playful! Additionally, children would not be masked when eating, drinking, or napping. We encourage programs to review Face Masks in Head Start Programs.

Q: Is it OK for children not to wear masks outdoors if close contact can be avoided?

A: Yes, during periods of outdoor play and activity that do not involve close contact, children may be unmasked. In accordance with the CDC’s COVID-19 Guidance for Operating Early Care and Education/Child Care Programs, adults who are not fully vaccinated must wear a mask outdoors in crowded settings or during activities that involve sustained close contact.

Notes to consider:

  • The CDC defines close contact as being less than 6 feet away from other people for more than 15 minutes
  • Children younger than 5 are not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccination
  • Even if there are periods of outdoor play that are unmasked, there would also very likely be periods of sustained close contact to care for and supervise young children, during which time children should be masked

Testing

Q: What type of testing should programs be using to meet the weekly testing requirement for those with approved exemptions?

A: Programs have the flexibility to develop their own written SARS-CoV-2 testing protocol for current COVID-19 infection for individuals granted vaccine exemptions. To promote flexibility for local programs, there is no standardized instrument associated with the new recordkeeping requirement. For further guidance, OHS encourages programs to review the CDC's Test for Current Infection.

Q: Can Head Start funds be used to pay for SARS-CoV-2 testing?

A: The costs associated with regular testing for those granted an exemption are an allowable use of Head Start funds, so long as it is included in a program’s policies and procedures and is reasonable and allocable under 45 CFR 75.404 and 75.405. While paying for the costs of testing is an allowable use of Head Start funds, it is not a requirement. Programs should consider whether they can sustain continued funding for tests.

Q: Can programs use non-Head Start funds for testing?

A: Yes, programs can use non-Head Start funds for testing. For example, state health departments have received funding from the CDC’s Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity for Prevention and Control of Emerging Infectious Diseases (ELC) through the ARP for community testing. ECE programs are eligible for these funds. OHS encourages programs to inquire with their state health department.

Q: Can we have a more stringent accommodation requirement than the at least weekly testing if an exemption is approved?

A: Yes, programs have the flexibility to establish and implement their own policies and procedures which must include at least weekly testing of exempt Head Start staff.

Q: If an exemption is approved and weekly testing is required, will Head Start funds cover the costs associated with the time taken to get tested?

A: The costs associated with regular testing for those granted an exemption are an allowable use of Head Start funds, so long as it is included in a program's policies and procedures, and is reasonable and allocable under 45 CFR 75.404 and 75.405. While paying for the costs associated with regular testing is an allowable use of Head Start funds, it is not a requirement. Programs should consider whether they can sustain continued funding for testing in their ongoing budget.

OHS encourages programs to consider access options available in the community for regular testing of individuals with approved vaccine exemptions when developing policies and procedures. Programs can help those individuals find tests by:

  • Visiting their state or territorialtribal, or local health department’s website to look for the latest local information on testing
  • Visiting their health care or public health department clinic provider to get a self-collection kit or self-test
  • Considering the purchase of self-collection kits or a self-test if individuals cannot, or have trouble, getting tested by a health care provider

Q: Is OHS doing anything to help grant recipients access testing for staff? Does OHS have a recommendation for providing COVID-19 tests for children?

A: To improve access to COVID-19 testing for underserved communities and at-risk congregate settings, OHS has been working to inform grant recipients of Operation Expanded Testing (OpET), a COVID-19 testing program funded and administered by the CDC. OpET is a $650 million program with a primary objective of supporting a safe learning environment for children. The OpET program supports schools, child care programs, and other congregate settings to access no-cost testing for program participants.

Q: According to the CDC, patients who have recovered from COVID-19 can continue to test positive for up to three months after illness onset. Should programs continue with at least weekly testing of an exempt staff who recently recovered from COVID?

A: The IFC requires programs to develop their own policy regarding the at least weekly testing requirement of exempt staff. Per the CDC, people who have recovered from COVID-19 can continue to have detectable SARS-CoV-2 RNA in upper respiratory specimens for up to three months after illness onset. OHS encourages programs to consult their Health Services Advisory (HSA) Committees for how to best develop policies that accommodate for scenarios as described above.

Intersection with Outside Partners and Schools

Q: We are a Community Action Agency with an indirect cost pool. Are the agency employees paid under the indirect cost pool from all community action programs, including Head Start programs, subject to the vaccine requirement?

A: Vaccination for COVID-19 is now a requirement for all Head Start staff, regardless of funding source, even if they are paid under the indirect cost pool.

Q: What if our state does not allow for vaccines/mask requirements?

A: Under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, this regulation pre-empts any state law to the contrary. U.S. Const. Art. VI § 2.

Q: If our program is part of a school system, do we still have to comply with these requirements?

A: Yes, all Head Start programs are required to follow all HSPPS.

Q: What is the expectation for documenting the vaccination status of staff employed or paid by a partner (e.g., school district) or contractors?

A: Under the IFC, programs are required to establish a system for documentation, which includes vaccine documentation, exemption requests, and outcomes for staff, certain contractors, and volunteers.

All medical records, including vaccine documentation, must be kept confidential and stored separately from an employer's personnel files, pursuant to the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act.

Examples of acceptable forms of proof of vaccination include:

  • CDC COVID-19 vaccination record card (or a legible photo of the card)
  • Documentation of vaccination from a health care provider or electronic health record
  • State immunization information system record

If vaccinated outside of the United States, a reasonable equivalent of any of the previous examples would suffice.

Programs have the flexibility to use an appropriate tracking tool of their choice. CDC provides an optional staff vaccination tracking tool that is available on the National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) website. This is a generic Excel-based tool available for free to anyone, not just NHSN participants, that facilities can use to track COVID-19 vaccinations for staff members.

IFC Process

Q: Will my feedback be considered?

A: Yes, grant recipients and other stakeholders have 30 days to submit formal comment on the emergency regulation. It is important to note that since this is an emergency regulation, the requirements will go into effect immediately and before any additional response is provided on the comments by ACF. The comment period officially closes Dec. 30, 2021. At that point, ACF will consider and respond to comments as a part of potential future rulemaking, if needed.

You can view the rule and submit comments on the IFC here: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2021/11/30/2021-25869/vaccine-and-mask-requirements-to-mitigate-the-spread-of-covid-19-in-head-start-programs

Q: Could this rule change based on public comment?

A: Yes, grant recipients and other stakeholders have 30 days to submit formal comment on the emergency regulation. It is important to note that since this is an emergency regulation, the requirements will go into effect immediately and before any additional response is provided on the comments by ACF. The comment period officially closes on Dec. 30, 2021.

At that point, ACF will consider and respond to comments as a part of potential future rulemaking, if needed.

Q: Why is this rule being issued as an Interim Final Rule without going through notice and comment rulemaking?

A: Ensuring safety and protection from COVID-19 for staff, children, and families is the utmost priority. Given the rapidly evolving public health emergency, the increasing presence of the COVID-19 Delta variant, and the unpredictability of the pandemic, OHS finds good cause to issue an emergency regulation as an Interim Final Rule, allowing the agency to take immediate action to protect the health and safety of staff, children, and families. Grant recipients and other stakeholders will still have an opportunity to comment on the regulation.

Q: What will happen with the standard when COVID-19 subsides?

A: ACF will respond appropriately to changes in the COVID-19 pandemic by updating regulations to reflect new and shifting circumstances.

Monitoring

Q: How will OHS monitor the vaccine and masking requirements?

A: During the Focus Area Two monitoring review, the onsite team will review the recipient’s process for documenting vaccination status and implementing the masking requirement. The grant recipient should have documentation of the total number of staff who are fully vaccinated and any who are exempt. The review team will select a random sample to verify the vaccination status of sampled staff (i.e., proof of vaccinations). The review team will also observe classrooms for consistent mask-wearing for adults and supportive environments encouraging children to wear masks.

Q: Will programs receive a monitoring finding if children are having difficulty keeping face masks in place?

A: During the onsite review, OHS will determine if programs have positive approaches to support children in wearing masks. Reviewers will look for teacher interactions that are supportive and encourage the use of masks, while also prohibiting discipline if children have difficulty wearing masks or are not wearing them correctly. OHS understands children may have a hard time keeping their face mask in place and will not issue findings if small numbers of children are not wearing mask.

Q: Will OHS issue deficiencies for masking or vaccine requirements?

A: Compliance with the masking and vaccine requirements will most often be limited to areas of concern or areas of noncompliance. If a noncompliance is identified during a monitoring review and is not corrected within the required timeframe, an uncorrected area of noncompliance will result in a deficiency. Recipients should make every effort to correct any finding identified during reviews to ensure they are not elevated.

Q: Will OHS issue a monitoring finding if the program has difficulty finding out the vaccine status of partners and others not employed by the Head Start program who provide services to enrolled children?

A: No. If partners or others not employed by the Head Start program do not provide the recipient with documentation of vaccination status, the program should provide the review team with the policy and procedures used to maintain a safe environment for children. These policies could include signs that require consistent and correct use of masks, as well as testing of partners or others not employed by Head Start who do not provide their vaccine documentation status. OHS encourages programs to review CDC’s COVID-19 guidance on Operating Early Care and Education/Child Care Programs in developing those policies and procedures.

Q: What documentation of vaccine status or testing will OHS require during monitoring reviews?

A: The grant recipient should have a process and tracking system that includes the required proof of vaccination (e.g., vaccine cards), testing procedures, and if exempted, proof of testing or intent to test at least weekly. The grant recipient should maintain documentation on the total number of staff, how many are fully or partially vaccinated, and how many have exemptions.

Other

Q: Have you considered the impact of a vaccination requirement on the Head Start workforce?

A: Staff vaccination requirements may result in the loss of some staff because they will not get the COVID-19 vaccine. That said, vaccination is an important requirement which prioritizes the health and safety of staff, children, and families.

Programs are encouraged to assess staff vaccination levels and to plan for vacancies as soon as possible to allow recruitment for needed staff. Program funds, including ARP supplemental funding, may be used as needed to recruit and retain staff, including for paid leave to obtain vaccine and recover from any side effects.

Q: Will OHS be allowing non-federal match waivers in case the vaccine impacts our relationships and partnerships for volunteers and volunteer services?

A: Consistent with Section 640(b) of the Head Start Act, programs can request a waiver for the non-federal match requirement. Considerations for a waiver include, but are not limited to, a lack of resources available in the community that may prevent the agency from providing all or a portion of the non-federal match contribution.