Fifty-one pairs of shoes and 59 notes asking for a halt to the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate in the name of medical freedom were placed outside the Spokane Public Schools building in downtown Spokane Friday.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s vaccine mandate includes K-12 and higher education staff. The deadline to become fully vaccinated is Oct. 18. Medical or religious exemptions are allowed in place of the vaccine.
Natalie Poulson, who has been with Spokane Public Schools for 18 years, said each shoe represents a person affected by the vaccine mandate. The silent protest is part of “Freedom Fridays,” in which people from across Washington are encouraged to leave a note with years of service, a quote, why they are being fired and why they support medical freedom outside their place of work.
“I believe that anybody should have the choice to either get the vaccine or not, but the mandate is really wrong,” said Heather Parish, who is teaching second-graders in her first year at Madison Elementary School .
Most of the notes were taped to the sidewalk with shoes and sandals surrounding them .
Some of the messages said, “stop the mandate” and “my body, my choice.”
Poulson said teachers and others left shoes and notes last Friday outside the SPS building, and they plan to do it each Friday until Oct. 15 – the Friday before the Oct. 18 deadline to be vaccinated.
Poulson quoted George Washington and the Pledge of Allegiance in her message. Old Navy American flag sandals kept the paper from blowing away.
“I am standing up for Freedom!” Poulson wrote.
She said Spokane Public Schools is one of the largest school districts in Washington, and she is asking it to advocate for its employees.
“I don’t feel like Spokane Public Schools is standing up for us or advocating for our rights, and I think that’s one of the most frustrating things,” said Parish, who also left shoes and a note Friday.
Many notes left outside the building Friday included educators and staff who have been with Spokane Public Schools for several years and are now on the verge of losing their jobs.
“A DECADE of service with the Mead School District,” one message said. “I love these kids and it breaks my heart that I have to choose between them & my FREEDOM.”
Parish said there are amazing teachers and staff at Spokane Public Schools, and it is sad thinking about losing great educators.
“They all really love the kids,” she said.
Parish said she had COVID-19 last year and she trusts her natural immunity.
She described bullying of unvaccinated employees as “under the radar” and “passive aggressive.”
She said she has been asked multiple times by staff members at her school if she was vaccinated or planned to get vaccinated. Parish said she can tell the “warmness cools a little bit” when she responds by saying she does not share that private information.
Jody Budge, a teacher at Balboa Elementary School who left shoes and a note Friday, said she also feels bullying is happening.
“It’s scary,” she said. “People are afraid.”
Budge said she is vaccinated and against the mandate. She said she wants everyone to make the best choice for their bodies, families and values.
“Because I’m vaccinated, I feel like I can have a voice,” Budge said. “Those people who aren’t vaccinated, I feel they are being bullied, they are being intimidated.”
Budge said the accommodations for unvaccinated employees appear to be discriminatory and isolating.
Vicki DuCharme, a Spokane resident, was reading the notes Friday as she was walking by with her dog.
She said she has mixed feelings about the mandate, but she goes “for freedom more than anything,” and people’s rights should not be questioned.
“That’s what this country is about,” DuCharme said.
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