All school employees – teachers, bus drivers and support staff – must be vaccinated against COVID-19. Gov. Jay Inslee imposed the vaccination requirement, which covers public and private schools, colleges, and early learning and child care programs that serve children from multiple households, on Aug. 18.
Employees must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 or be subject to dismissal. As with Inslee’s vaccine requirement for state employees and health care workers, there are medical and religious exemptions. School employees cannot opt to be tested instead of vaccinated.
Students are not required to be vaccinated. Vaccines are currently authorized only for children 12 and older.
As of last spring, approximately 90% of Methow Valley School District employees were reported to be fully vaccinated for COVID, according to the district. All students and staff in the district are required to wear a mask, regardless of vaccination status.
Between June and July of this year, there was a 65% to 80% increase in cases of COVID among children, according to the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). “Especially when so many students aren’t yet eligible to receive the vaccine – and the protection against the virus that comes along with it – our staff must join together to create as strong of a protective barrier as we can,” OSPI said.
Lawmakers want ‘local control’
State representatives Mike Steele and Keith Goehner (both 12th District Republicans) criticized the vaccine requirement for school staff.
“The governor’s actions have put our school districts in a very difficult position – terminate staff and lose state or federal funding if they are out of compliance. It is also taking away the focus of where it should be – providing a strong framework within the classroom for our students. We cannot afford another year of students not getting in-person education,” they said.
Steele and Goehner advocated more local control in making these decisions. They criticized the governor for leaving legislators out of the decision-making process “as we operate under ‘emergency’ orders with some of the most extreme mandates in the country,” they said.
State Sen. Brad Hawkins (R, 12th Dist.) said he’d been hearing from constituents with concerns about Inslee’s COVID orders. Hawkins said he’s been “frustrated” by the state’s response to the pandemic. “I have been calling for more local control and decision-making in this process rather than a continuation of top-down ‘command and control’ directives from Olympia,” Hawkins said.
The mask and vaccine mandates are enforceable under the emergency powers of the governor and secretary of health, Hawkins said. Hawkins said he supports personal exemptions for vaccinations, in addition to medical and religious exemptions.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave full approval to the Pfizer COVID vaccine for individuals 16 and older on Aug. 23. The Pfizer shot is the first to get full approval.
Full approval for the Pfizer vaccine may reassure some people who were hesitant because COVID vaccines were being given under the FDA’s emergency-use authorization.