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News >  K-12 education

Reykdal wants ultimatum for school employees: Unless you have medical or religious exemption, get vaccinated or face losing your job

Aug. 12, 2021 Updated Sat., Aug. 14, 2021 at 2:40 p.m.

Reykdal  (SSR)
Reykdal (SSR)

Teachers and staff in Washington’s public schools could lose their jobs if they fail to get vaccinations against COVID-19 under a proposal floated Thursday by state schools Superintendent Chris Reykdal.

Citing higher levels of coronavirus infection, Reykdal urged Gov. Jay Inslee to issue an executive order requiring all employees, except those with medical or religious exemptions, in public K-12 schools to get vaccinations as a condition of employment.

“With the continued increase in cases of COVID-19 across our state due to the highly contagious delta variant, students losing precious time learning in-person with their educators and peers because of quarantine or, potentially, school building closures is a real threat,” Reykdal said in a letter released Thursday .

Reykdal’s request comes a few hours after the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, endorsed vaccine requirements for school workers.

It’s unclear what action Inslee will take.

Earlier this week, Inslee mandated that most state employees and private health care and long-term care workers be vaccinated by mid-October or lose their jobs. According to his office, he did not include K-12 employees in that mandate because he was first focusing on state and health care employees.

“But he does have the authority to do so,” spokeswoman Tara Lee wrote in an email.

Reykdal will hold a press conference at 9 a.m. Friday to offer more details on his proposal.

On Wednesday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that teachers and other school employees must either be vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to regular testing.

Reykdal’s request goes a step further, asking Inslee to include the provision that any school employee who chooses not to receive their vaccination by the specified date will be subject to non-disciplinary dismissal from employment.

Reykdal urged Inslee to move quickly.

“Especially after a year and a half of remote and hybrid learning, a continuity of in-person instruction will be more important this year than ever,” the letter continues. “In consulting with several of our partners and stakeholders in K–12 education, I was told unequivocally that if you are going to make the decision to require the vaccine for school employees, it will make a significant difference if that decision is made as soon as possible.”

“Our school districts are making staffing decisions for fall and negotiating agreements with their labor partners now,” Reykdal said. “Providing districts with as much notice as possible will help to ensure a smoother implementation of the order for districts and school employees.”

Local reaction was mixed.

In a statement, Spokane Public Schools Superintendent Adam Swinyard said only that “SPS continues to encourage families and staff to follow the guidance of public health officials.”

“We will continue to recognize the mandates provided at the state level,” Swinyard said.

On Wednesday night, Swinyard and school board members faced a crowd of parents and citizens who were critical of the mask mandate.

Swinyard noted that Reykdal had threatened to withhold state funding to any district that chose to defy the mandate.

It’s unclear whether such a penalty would accompany a vaccine requirement, should Inslee approve it.

Meanwhile, local teachers’ union leader Jeremy Shay said that he “would be fine” with a proposal similar to California’s.

“But a mandate that requires all of our members to be vaccinated is unacceptable,” Shay said.

Editor’s note: This story was updated on August 14, 2021, to reflect that Reykdal’s letter suggests medical and religious exemptions be allowed for school employees. 

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