Washington’s state superintendent sent a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday “strongly encouraging” him to require coronavirus vaccinations for all public school employees, citing the governor’s vaccine mandate for all state workers and hundreds of thousands of health care workers.
Superintendent Chris Reykdal sent the letter just a day after California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered all school employees, including private schools, to either show proof of vaccination or be subject to weekly testing.
“With the continued increase in cases of COVID-19 across our state due to the highly contagious Delta variant, students losing precious time learning in-person with their educators and peers because of quarantine or, potentially, school building closures is a real threat,” Reykdal’s letter said.
In the letter, he encouraged the governor to expand his vaccine mandate to public school employees as soon as possible.
“Our school districts are making staffing decisions for fall and negotiating agreements with their labor partners now,” the letter said. “Providing districts with as much notice as possible will help to ensure a smoother implementation of the order for districts and school employees.”
Reykdal’s letter also encouraged the governor to set the same provisions for public school employees as state and health care workers. State employees and health care workers have until Oct. 18 to get fully vaccinated and show proof, or they will lose their jobs. Exemptions are allowed for religious or medical reasons.
The governor does not plan on making any new announcements this week, according to spokesperson Tara Lee, but will continue to look at policies that will increase vaccination rates.
“The governor did not initially include K-12 in the vaccine mandate as we were focused on cabinet level state employees and those who work in private healthcare, long-term care etc,” Lee said in an email. “But, yes the governor does have the authority to do this.”
Requiring school employees to be fully vaccinated has recently gained support from local and national health experts, elected officials, and education leaders.
During Wednesday’s school board meeting, Seattle Public Schools interim Superintendent Brent Jones said he was considering a vaccination mandate for teachers in the state’s largest school district.
Seattle students go back to school Sept. 1.
“I know there’s discussion at the state level for maybe having that as a mandate from the governor, but he hasn’t made that proclamation yet,” Jones said during the meeting. “But we are researching it and taking it very seriously internally.”
The Seattle Education Association teachers union also supports a vaccine mandate for all Seattle school employees, according to a statement.
Washington’s teachers union, the Washington Education Association, said the union will also support a mandate if public health experts determine it “is the next best step to take to control this pandemic,” spokesperson Julie Popper said in an email.
Newsom’s announcement requiring vaccines or weekly tests came a day after infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci told MSNBC vaccines should be required for teachers.
The two largest teachers unions in the country — the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers — also have come out in support for teacher vaccination requirements.
Some politicians say vaccine mandates should be a local decision. Rep. Joseph Schmick, R-Colfax, said local school boards should have the right to decide if teachers should be vaccinated because school boards know what’s best for their families and staff.
Many state colleges and universities have mandated vaccines for students and staff, but with broad exemption clauses that allow people to opt out for personal or philosophical reasons. Washington State University football coach Nick Rolovich has drawn criticism for his decision not to get the vaccine, citing personal reasons.