Monday, November 29, 2021
Nov. 29, 2021

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Clark County school districts see strong vaccine response

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:

Monday marked the deadline for public, private and charter school employees in Washington to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. Those who failed to do so must either have filed for a medical or religious exemption prior to the deadline in order to maintain employment.

In Clark County, continued school staffing issues led some to be concerned as to whether the deadline would exacerbate those shortages.

Early results, however, show that the vast majority of school employees at major districts — well over 90 percent — complied with the mandate.

Evergreen Public Schools, the largest district in the county, reported 91.2 percent of employees showed proof of vaccination, while 8.8 percent were granted medical or religious exemption.

Bill Beville, the president of the Evergreen Education Association, said just a small “handful” of his union members failed to comply with the mandate and that he had prepared for a much worse response.

“It went better than I anticipated,” Beville said. “But if you didn’t get cleared by today, you’re not at work today.”

One thing Beville had not realized, he said, was how many employees had been vaccinated but had simply not yet reported their status to the district. The mandate, he said, led many teachers and employees to share their status.

In Vancouver Public Schools, that trend remained consistent: 92.4 percent of employees reported as vaccinated and another 7.6 percent received an approved medical or religious exemption.

One employee resigned in lieu of the mandate, while another was placed on unpaid administrative leave with recommendation for termination, said VPS communications director Pat Nuzzo.

“I am grateful for the overwhelming positive response by our employees and for their continued dedication to serve our students in the safest way possible,” Superintendent Jeff Snell said in a press release Monday.

For those who were approved for an exemption, they must adhere to masking and social distancing requirements and may be subjected to regular COVID-19 testing contingent on cases, work duties and other factors, Nuzzo said.

In Battle Ground, the county’s third-largest district, approximately 85 percent of employees provided proof of vaccination, while the remaining 15 percent were approved for exemption. In line with the other two major districts, less than 1 percent of Battle Ground employees failed to comply with the mandate.

Camas School District saw 100 percent of its employees comply with the mandate, with about 92 percent showing proof of vaccination. Ridgefield School District also reported that all but one of its 359 employees met the mandate, with just over 91 percent having received the vaccine.

Statistics from Green Mountain, Hockinson, La Center, Washougal and Woodland will be provided later in the week.

The mandate, which was announced by Gov. Jay Inslee on Aug. 18, came on the heels of a recommendation made by state Superintendent Chris Reykdal, who urged that mass vaccinations among school employees could ensure a safe and quicker return to in-person education.

Kari Van Nostran, the president of the Vancouver Education Association, said there was a greater sense of uncertainty when the mandate was initially announced. The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, however, helped to develop a consistent exemption form and worked with teachers unions to help them better understand how to approach the mandate — which cleared up many of those initial concerns.

Though the mandate yielded positive results across the county, Van Nostran noted that staffing shortages are still a serious issue for VPS and other districts in the region as they continue to find their footing as the pandemic continues to play a role in schools.

“The concern will remain throughout the year,” she said.

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