Local education leaders support vaccine mandate

Brian Kelly, Laura Jean Schneider and James Sloan news@ptleader.com
Posted 9/1/21

Leaders across Jefferson County schools said they support Gov. Jay Inslee’s mandate requiring K-12 employees to be vaccinated by mid-October.

Inslee announced the requirement at a press …

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Local education leaders support vaccine mandate

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Leaders across Jefferson County schools said they support Gov. Jay Inslee’s mandate requiring K-12 employees to be vaccinated by mid-October.

Inslee announced the requirement at a press conference last week, and ordered school employees to get vaccinated for COVID-19 by Oct. 18.

“I’m relieved that the governor is providing this layer of protection to our students, especially those who are too young to get vaccinated,” said Port Townsend Superintendent Linda Rosenbury.

Rosenbury said the mandate may impact the district’s workforce.

“A handful of employees may decide to leave the district,” she added. “This will be challenging on top of our existing labor shortages.” 

Rosenbury noted the district currently has open job positions for bus drivers, para-educators, and food service workers. This mandate may lead to more vacancies. 

“We hope more community members will apply for these crucial roles. As our children return to five days a week of in-person instruction, they need a team of people supporting them,” Rosenbury said.

Within minutes of Inslee’s announcement, Chimacum Superintendent Scott Mauk told The Leader school employees had already been sending proof of their vaccination status to the school district. 

That effort started the previous week, he added.

“I really want our community to know that nothing is going to change, that the start of school is going to happen,” Mauk said. “We will make it all work.”

What’s new about this mandate, Mauk said, “is the verification process.”

“It should be pretty straightforward,” he said, adding that the Chimacum School District had already been tracking the vaccination status of their employees.

“We have time for people to get their vaccines up to date,” Mauk added.  

He said he was optimistic overall. 

“I’m really into focusing on student engagement,” he said. “Vaccinations are necessary to help.”

SAW IT COMING

Chimacum School Board President Kristina Myer said she wasn’t surprised by the vaccination mandate.

“We knew it was coming,” Myer said. “We’re just trying to put health and safety of our students and employees first.” 

“We will follow the health directive. It’s very clear,” she added

Myer called the development an “intersection of a public health crisis and school,” and stressed the critical issue is to keep kids in school. 

“School will open as planned,” she said. “We certainly have some complex issues to work with since it’s been a year and a half since regular school.”

Since the Washington Department of Labor and Industry requires the school district to keep an updated log of each employee’s vaccine status, much of the information needed is already in hand in Chimacum. 

Even so, vaccinations for employees is “a choice they’re going to have to make,” Myer said.

“The consequences are really clear in the letter from the governor.”

Myer was optimistic the mandate wouldn’t have a major impact in Chimacum schools.

“I don’t think we’re going to lose any teachers over this,” she said.

In Quilcene, Superintendent Frank Redmon also stressed student safety.

“We are looking forward to our students returning to school in a couple of weeks,” he said. “I appreciate the intent and efforts of Governor Inslee and Superintendent Reykdal to ensure that all of our students will have a safe school to return to when we start school on Aug. 30.”

“Their leadership will help ensure that our schools and our staff do not contribute to the spread of COVID-19 through eligible unvaccinated adults in our school system,” Redmon added.

A TIME CRUNCH

Superintendent Patricia Beathard of the Brinnon School District said meeting the mandate may be a challenge, but the school district would be ready.

“We will be 100 percent in compliance with this order,” Beathard said. 

“We start school on Aug. 30. Coming a week before school starts for us, this order does present some challenges. We are waiting on more guidance and we will work out a plan,” she added. 

Beathard praised the efforts already underway to get Brinnon ready for the school year.

“Dave Codier, Jefferson County Department of Emergency Management liaison officer, has been very helpful with vaccine clinics and has already reached out to check on our needs,” Beathard said.

A STERN WARNING

During his announcement last week, Inslee stressed that workers who do not get vaccinations could be fired.

“This is a legally binding document,” Inslee said of his order that requires all K-12 employees, as well as those working in childcare, early learning, and higher education, to get vaccinated. Exemptions will be available for people who have disabilities or where vaccinations conflict with a “sincerely held religious belief.”

The new requirement, which also included an expansion of the statewide mask mandate that requires all people in indoor public spaces to wear masks regardless of vaccination status, was prompted by the rapid spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus. 

The total number of COVID-19 cases in Washington hit 517,214 last Wednesday, with 6,269 deaths due to the coronavirus and 28,979 Washingtonians hospitalized due to the disease.

“These vaccines are incredibly effective. Amazingly effective,” Inslee said. 

“They are a medical miracle.”

The vaccines are a double miracle, he added, by saving tens of thousands of lives in Washington and by having “minimal side effects.”

The governor added: “169 million Americans already know this is true.”

New cases of COVID-19 are largely people who have not been vaccinated against the disease.

“More than 95 percent of the COVID hospitalizations we see today are among the unvaccinated,” Inslee said.

“Those are the people we love and we care for and it is heart-wrenching to see,” he said.

The more people that are vaccinated, Inslee said, the closer Washington will come to stopping the transmission of the virus.

Without the requirement for vaccinations, the governor added, people will continue to be susceptible to new variants of COVID-19.

“This is the right thing to do to save lives in the state of Washington,” he said.

“We are well past the point where testing is enough to keep people safe. We tried it. It has not been adequate to the task at hand,” Inslee added.

Washington state broke its previous record of hospitalizations due to COVID this week, Inslee said.

“This virus mutated. There’s a new game in town.”

“This is a new fight. The Delta variant presents a whole new challenge to the state of Washington,” Inslee said.

Vaccines work and masks work, he added.

Inslee also said the virus is increasingly impacting young people and is spreading primarily among those who have not been vaccinated.

“More of us have to do our part,” Inslee said.

‘STEP UP AGAIN’

Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal thanked Inslee for the vaccination order and asked public education employees to get jabbed.

“I need you to step up again,” Reykdal said to school workers.

Opening schools and keeping them open is important, he said. If outbreaks happen after students go back to class, they will suffer. Schools will be closed and jobs will be impacted if COVID continues to spread, Reykdal said.

“Shutdowns have impacts,” he said, and noted getting employees vaccinated was the best opportunity available to keep schools open.

“Our goal here is safety first and foremost,” he said. “We know we can open our schools and keep them open and keep our students and staff safe.”

The pandemic is different now than when COVID-19 first started spreading in Washington. 

The Delta variant, he said, is more easily spread.

“Delta is different. It’s more transmissible,” he said. 

“Please get your vaccines,” Reykdal said.

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