The top educator in Washington State has called on Gov. Jay Inslee to require all K-12 education employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Superintendent Chris Reykdal initially sent a letter to Inslee on Aug. 12, and followed up with a press conference today. He’s requesting that Inslee order all school employees to receive a vaccine, with exemptions for people with medical conditions that prohibit them from getting one, and religious exemptions. Under the requested policy, employees who chose not to get vaccinated would face non-disciplinary firing.
Washington schools will be opening for in-person learning in the coming weeks, with many students returning to the classroom for the first time since schools were shuttered in March 2020. At the same time, a more contagious strain of the virus — the Delta variant — is driving infection rates up across the country, while children under the age of 12 are not yet allowed to receive COVID-19 vaccines.
Students will be required to wear masks when they return, and schools could be shut down if they experience outbreaks.
“For those folks who are frustrated by mask requirements or vaccine requirements, they need to understand the consequences of a variant like Delta impacting us as it is clearly doing in parts of the country with devastating impacts,” Reykdal said during his Friday press conference. “We will have to shut down schools. We will have to shut down buildings or quarantine significant numbers of students on a regular basis.”
Currently, Reykdal said the vaccination rate among school personnel is around 70%. That leaves roughly 40,000 to 50,000 personnel who are unvaccinated. Inslee announced earlier this week that all state employees would be required to get vaccinated by Oct. 18.
A spokesperson for the Governor’s office issued the following statement following Reykdal’s press conference:
“The governor did not initially include K-12 in the vaccine mandate as we were focused on cabinet level state employees and those who work in private healthcare, long-term care etc. But, he does have the authority to do so.
As with all this around COVID, we continue to look for ways to ensure the health and safety of all Washingtonians. We believe that as many people as possible should be vaccinated, especially those who work with vulnerable populations.
We will continue to look at policies to increase the vaccination rate, but we do not have plans to make any new announcements today.”
The Washington Education Association (WEA), the largest public school employee union in the state, issued the following statement on Reykdal’s request:
“Safety for our students, staff, and communities is critical as we return to classrooms this fall, and WEA supports following all recommendations of public health experts for COVID mitigation. Schools must enforce masking, contact tracing, testing, social distancing, and other mitigation measures that will reduce infection rates.
These safe and effective COVID vaccines are the most effective tool in our fight to end the pandemic. WEA encourages everyone who can to get vaccinated immediately. If the governor requires educators to get vaccinated, the order will apply to WEA members.”
It’s unclear what the response from state Legislators will be to the vaccination request. However, at least 25 Republican lawmakers signed a letter to Inslee on Aug. 9, asking him to rethink his school mask mandate.
During the press conference on Aug. 13, Reykdal urged school boards not to pass anti-mask resolutions, saying his office would withhold funding if they chose to do so.
Reykdal further said he would support a COVID-19 vaccination requirement for students, but isn’t asking for one right now.
“At this point I will absolutely support that for students as a requirement to enroll in our schools, as we have with other vaccines.”
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