OTHELLO – About 75 people gathered in front of the Othello School District office Monday evening to protest an order from Gov. Jay Inslee requiring most school employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine by Oct. 18.
The protesters included Othello School District employees, health care workers and employees from other local school districts.
Inslee announced the mandate for school employees Aug. 18. The order applies to school employees in public, private and charter schools, as well as child care workers and employees of early learning facilities that work with children from multiple households.
Inslee issued an order Aug. 9 requiring health care workers and employees of long term care facilities to get the vaccines by Oct. 18.
Protesters said they considered the decision to be a personal choice, and not up to state officials.
Hannah Mohs, an OSD teacher, said the focus should be on the kids and their education, and the controversy over the mandates switches the focus away from that.
Marysol Parrish, also an OSD teacher, said she considered the decision of whether to get the vaccine to be up to her.
“We’re not getting that choice,” she said.
Casie Hampton, an OSD paraprofessional, said she supported people who opted to take the vaccine, but she wanted to make that decision for herself without putting her job in jeopardy.
Jackie Wilhelm is an OSD employee, and attended with her husband Zach. Jackie Wilhelm said she was there to protest the rules requiring children to wear masks most of the school day, as well as the vaccine mandates for school employees.
“I want the government to reconsider what they’re asking of us,” Jackie Wilhelm said.
Zach Wilhelm said he works for a business that isn’t subject to a vaccine mandate. But there’s no guarantee that mandates won’t be extended in the future, he said. Those are decisions he should be making for himself, and he and his wife should be making for their family, he said.
A teacher who declined to give her name, but said she worked in a neighboring district, said she heard about the protest from a colleague and decided to attend. Teachers need to stick together, she said.
Sonny Garza, an OSD teacher, said more pushback against the mandates was needed from people in official positions, such as the Othello School Board and the board of directors of the Columbia Basin Health Association.
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