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News / Clark County News

Washington teacher union backs vaccination mandate

By Meg Wochnick, Columbian staff writer
Published: August 18, 2021, 8:24pm

With the COVID-19 vaccine now a job requirement in Washington, teachers and other school staff must be vaccinated by mid-October or lose their jobs.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced Wednesday all public, private and charter school staff statewide plus all employees working in higher-education have until Oct. 18 to comply with the new vaccination mandate for educators. The only opt-out is a medical or religious exemption.

Following Inslee’s announcement, Larry Delaney, president of the Washington Education Association, said the union supports the recommendations of public health experts to mitigate COVID risks.

“We look forward to welcoming our students back in person this fall, but to make that sustainable, we must do everything we can to reduce the possibility of COVID transmission in our schools,” Delaney said. “By vaccinating staff, we reduce the possibility of infecting those who cannot be vaccinated, including our students under 12 years old.”

Locally, a special education paraeducator with Vancouver Public Schools told The Columbian on Wednesday he’s thrilled about the vaccine mandate for staff in schools.

“Part of my job is to help keep our students safe,” said the paraeducator, who asked that his name not be used. “My vaccinations do that.”

Inslee said he’s confident school employees will choose to comply with the new mandate. He said the state will know by Oct. 5 who has begun the vaccination process and those not compliant will be discharged by their school district.

“This is a serious issue,” Inslee said. “This is not some suggestion or a whimsical idea we’re floating. It’s a job requirement and people will be held to account by loss of job if they cannot come into compliance.”

Before Wednesday, school districts could not ask staff to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination, but districts could accept them voluntarily. State Superintendent Chris Reykdal estimated about 70 percent of statewide certificated staff, which includes teachers, administrators and school counselors, are vaccinated, but that percentage is lower in other staffing groups. He added there’s between 40,000-50,000 school employees who need vaccination statewide.

The state first outlined a vaccination plan for educators in January when many districts across the state were still in remote learning.

One local school employee who reached out to The Columbian said he doesn’t plan to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The maintenance technician for a local district, who also asked that he not be named, said he will leave his district once he’s hired on by a private company or “they (the school district) fire me for noncompliance.”

The vaccine mandate also brings change for Clark College, which prior to Wednesday, was one of a handful of community colleges in Washington not requiring COVID-19 vaccination for students and employees for the 2021-22 academic year. The college said July 20 it “strongly encouraged” vaccines. In April, Washington State University required vaccination for students and employees systemwide.