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News >  K-12 education

Spokane Public Schools waiting to release details for accommodating unvaccinated employees

UPDATED: Fri., Oct. 1, 2021

The Spokane Public Schools district office at Main Avenue and Bernard Street.  (JESSE TINSLEY)
The Spokane Public Schools district office at Main Avenue and Bernard Street. (JESSE TINSLEY)

With a crucial deadline looming, Spokane Public Schools has yet to specify what protections it will provide its 30,000 students against unvaccinated staff who have been granted exemptions to receiving to the COVID-19 vaccine.

But the district has suggested that those unvaccinated employees may have to wear extra personal protective equipment.

About 350 district employees of Spokane Public Schools have submitted applications to seek an exemption to Gov. Jay Inslee’s mandate, the district said Friday.

Roughly another 350 have yet to declare their intentions, a district spokesperson confirmed.

Officially, employees have until Oct. 18 to declare their intentions. However, they must have received the vaccine by Monday to be considered fully vaccinated by Oct. 18.

At that point, the district must decide what accommodations it will give to employees whose applications for religious or medical exemptions are accepted.

Asked on Friday what measures the district is planning in response to employees seeking exemptions and then accommodations to keep their jobs, the district’s communications director Sandra Jarrard offered a brief answer via email: “An example of an accommodation would be additional PPE requirements.”

Of the district’s roughly 5,200 full- and part-time employees, about 3,800 are either vaccinated or have left their jobs voluntarily.

The district has not disclosed how many of the unvaccinated employees seeking an accommodation have face-to-face interaction with teachers, students and staff.

Nor has the school district divulged how many employee applications for either religious or medical exemptions have been denied.

“Our HR department has been working hard to get through that process, and we want to do it really intentionally,” Swinyard said.

Jeremy Shay, president of the Spokane Education Association, said this week that he had no complaints from members.

“It’s going very well so far,” Shay said.

The exemption guidelines were released by the Office of the State Superintendent on Aug. 18.

The language places a high burden of proof on employers to deny applications for exemptions.

It begins: “Federal guidance on religious accommodation encourages employers to presume that an employee’s request for religious accommodation is based on a sincere belief in a religion, unless the employer has a valid, objective reason to question the employee.”

The second paragraph ends with more ambiguity: “Moral or ethical beliefs about what is right and wrong, which are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views, may meet the definition of a sincerely held religious belief.”

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