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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  K-12 education

New numbers show Eastern Washington lags in teacher COVID-19 vaccination rates

Seeking some peace of mind that your child’s teacher is vaccinated against COVID-19?

You could ask, but because of medical privacy laws, teachers and school districts are not obligated to disclose that information.

Or you could move to Seattle, where 98% of teachers in the state’s largest school district are fully vaccinated.

At the other extreme is the Onion Creek School District in northern Stevens County. Of the district’s 17 employees, 10 received religious exemptions instead of the vaccine.

District-by-district data released this week by the state superintendent’s office showed large variations in the percentages of teachers and other staff who were vaccinated by the Oct. 18 deadline.

Some of the lowest rates were found in rural districts, particularly in Eastern Washington. Those districts also showed the highest rates of employees seeking – and almost always receiving – a medical or religious exemption.

Statewide, 90.4% of teachers and 87.6% classified personnel are vaccinated. That’s almost 20 percentage points higher than the state’s overall rate and close to the rate of other employees subject to Gov. Jay Inslee’s government worker vaccine mandate.

Numbers are even higher in Seattle Public Schools: 98% and 97%, respectively.

However, numbers are lower in Eastern Washington, with Spokane Public Schools and Pullman the only larger districts to top the 90% mark for all employees.

Most districts in Spokane and neighboring counties hovered between 70% and 85%.

Those numbers aren’t surprising, because they generally corresponded to the population at large. For example, only 31% of residents in Stevens County are vaccinated.

In neighboring Pend Oreille County, only 59% of school workers are vaccinated , with 37% receiving a religious exemption.

Vaccination rates also varied by job title, sometimes to a large degree. For example, about 92% of Spokane teachers are vaccinated. However, that drops to 91% for classified staff and 87% in central administration.

The county’s second-largest district, Central Valley, reported that 84% of teachers were vaccinated and about 79% of classified staff.

That wasn’t the case in Ritzville, where 74% of classified staff are vaccinated but only 60% of teachers – one of the lowest rates in the state.

Of the state’s 300 school districts, about two-thirds gave religious exemptions to at least 10% of their employees. However, the highest rates occurred in small rural districts.

The Reardan-Edwall School District, which straddles the Spokane-Lincoln County line, reported that 35% of employees were granted exemptions. Liberty reported 36%, while the Newport School District in Pend Oreille Country had a 33% exemption rate.

Relatively few state school workers lost their jobs because of the vaccine mandate.

Out of about 155,000 employees, fewer than 500 were reported as noncompliant, meaning they made no effort toward getting a shot or requesting an exemption by the Oct. 18 deadline.

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