The Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and Kaiser Permanente are poised to announce a “bold plan” to vaccinate the state’s teachers and staff, they announced Thursday.
State Superintendent Chris Reykdal and Kaiser President Susan Mullaney will share details during a press conference Friday at 11 a.m.
“The plan aims to support a safe return to schools across Washington,” OSPI said in the statement, which offered no other details.
As districts in Spokane County move more students to in-person learning, the issue of vaccinating teachers has moved to the forefront in the debate over how fast and how soon schools should reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
While 23 other states, including Idaho and Oregon, have begun vaccinating all teachers, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and the state Department of Health gave priority to residents 65 and older, along with those 50 and older living in multigenerational households.
Current state guidelines place teachers and staff 50 and older in Phase 1B, Tier 2, with vaccinations loosely scheduled for February or March. Those under 50 are in Phase 1B, Tier 4, with a timeline for shots in the spring or summer.
That means that a 49-year-old educator with a room full of kindergartners must wait behind a 51-year-old who teaches from home.
Earlier this week, Jeremy Shay, president of the Spokane Education Association, said the union wants to prioritize those who are teaching in person. “We want them to have access to the vaccine,” he said.
The teachers union in Bellevue took the issue a step further, voting to halt instruction entirely until all teachers had access to a vaccine. Bellevue teachers were back in classes after reaching a tentative agreement, though details were not made public.
It isn’t clear whether the pending announcement by OSPI and Kaiser is an effort to circumvent Inslee.
Earlier this week and again on Wednesday, the governor cited low in-school COVID-19 transmission rates as proof that it’s relatively safe to get back into schools, even if teachers aren’t vaccinated.
“It’s not any more than we have asked for our child care providers, and they have stepped up to the plate,” Inslee said.
“The fear of this is understandable, but it’s not backed up by our experience, because experience shows us you can operate safely, and we are doing it all across our state today,” Inslee told KATU-TV of Portland on Wednesday.
Inslee’s comments drew a sharp reaction from Jennifer Matter, president of the Seattle Education Association, which represents teachers in the state’s largest district.
“It’s disappointing to hear the governor’s remarks (Wednesday); it was really disrespectful and not constructive,” Matter told Q13 news.
The news comes as districts in Spokane County move to bring more students back for in-person instruction.
The Central Valley and West Valley school districts are scheduled to begin providing at least some in-person instruction next week for all students who want it. The Cheney School District plans to do the same on Feb. 8.
Spokane Public Schools is scheduled to provide some in-person instruction for all students by March 1. During a meeting Wednesday night, school board members learned the district has vaccinated roughly 10% of its roughly 4,000 staffers, following Inslee’s guidelines.