State schools

Public schools chief urges vaccination mandate for teachers

The head of Washington’s public schools on Thursday (August 12) urged Gov. Jay Inslee to require all public school employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or risk losing their jobs.

In one letterSuperintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal has “strongly” encouraged the governor to require all public school teachers and staff to provide proof that they have received a COVID-19 vaccine by Oct. 18 as a condition of employment – ​​the same mandate that Inslee issued earlier this week for state workers and health care providers.

“With the continued increase in COVID-19 cases in our state due to the highly contagious delta variant, students are losing valuable time learning in person with their educators and peers due to quarantine or, potentially, school building closures is a real threat,” he wrote.

Imposing a mandate, he wrote, “will make our schools safer and reduce the possibility of harmful disruptions to learning.”

Reykdal planned to hold a press conference at 9 a.m. on Friday (August 13) to discuss the request. Inslee is on vacation and shouldn’t be attending.

August 9, Inslee issued a proclamation demanding that about 60,000 state employees and 400,000 health and long-term care workers be vaccinated by mid-October or fired in the face. order does not apply to elementary or secondary schools. However, because it covers health care settings, it would apply to nurses’ offices on any school campus.

The mandate contains exemptions for religious and medical reasons. Reykdal said these should also be extended to school employees.

The governor did not initially include K-12 in the vaccine mandate because we were focusing on state employees at the cabinet level and those working in private health care and long-term care, said Tara Lee, Inslee’s Director of Communications.

“As with everything around COVID, we continue to seek ways to ensure the health and safety of all Washingtonians. We believe that as many people as possible should be vaccinated, especially those working with vulnerable populations,” she wrote in an email. “We will continue to review policies aimed at increasing vaccination rates, but we have no plans to make any further announcements this week.”

Vaccine requirements are taking root in public and private settings across the country, including in education.

In California, where classes began this week in many schools, all teachers and school workers, including those in private schools, must now show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or be tested for coronavirus weekly. California Governor Gavin Newsom issued the order Wednesday, August 11.

In Washington, students will begin returning to class later this month and just after Labor Day.

A spokeswoman for the Washington Education Association — the national union for graduate teachers — did not take a position on a warrant and did not take a position on Reykdal’s request.

“The COVID vaccine is an essential tool in the fight to end the pandemic and WEA has encouraged everyone who can to get vaccinated immediately,” spokeswoman Julie Popper said in an email.

Although school districts have the authority to mandate vaccination and testing of their workers if they choose, none have yet done so.

Even if Inslee issues the requested mandate, districts will still need to negotiate elements of its implementation with unions representing teachers, classified staff and other employee groups.

That’s why Reykdal hopes Inslee will act quickly.

“In consulting with many of our K-12 education partners and stakeholders, I was told unequivocally that if you made the decision to require the vaccine for school employees, it would be a significant difference if this decision was taken as soon as possible. as possible,” he wrote.

“Our school districts are making staffing decisions for the fall and are now negotiating agreements with their union partners. Providing districts with as much advance notice as possible will help ensure a smoother implementation of the order for districts and school employees. »

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