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Cambridge Public Schools requires eligible students to get COVID-19 vaccination

Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, as seen in 2016. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, as seen in 2016. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Cambridge Public Schools is requiring eligible students to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of November. Those who do not get the shot will still be able to attend class, but will not be allowed to participate in extracurriculars.

The city's School Committee approved the requirement in a 6-to-1 vote Tuesday night, making Cambridge the second Massachusetts school district to enact one. (The Amherst-Pelham Regional School District is thought to be the first — and is requiring student vaccinations by December for those who are eligible.)

Currently, those 12 years and older are eligible for the COVID vaccine. A federally authorized vaccine for kids between 5 and 11 years old isn't expected until the end of the year at the earliest.

The latest state data show 95% of 12- to 15-year-olds in Cambridge are partially vaccinated (which is higher than the state vaccination rate for that age range) and 56% of 16- to 19-year-olds in Cambridge are at least partially vaccinated (which the city reports is 16% lower than the statewide rate for that age group).

Interim Superintendent Victoria Greer says that number is too low and that a vaccine requirement makes sense for keeping students at school in person as winter approaches.

She says the requirement will include medical and religious exemptions, which the city plans to release more information about in the next week or so. But she wouldn't be surprised by legal challenges.

"There are persons who feel very strongly about this being an overreach of the district. We have 8,000 students in our district. Our responsibility is to keep all 8,000 of those students safe," Greer says.

Students who aren't vaccinated by Nov. 29 can still come to school but they'll be held out of extracurriculars like sports and after-school clubs. Greer notes the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association — which regulates high school sports in the state — is also recommending vaccinations for student-athletes.

Greer says the district's goal isn't to punish kids or families, and that it's working with other city departments on vaccine information sessions where students can ask questions.

"We've come from the perspective of, how do we educate, support, and also put some parameters to motivate young people in receiving the vaccination? So we'll start from that perspective," she says.

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Jack Mitchell is an associate producer in WBUR's newsroom.

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