Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal (left) holds up a face mask as he speaks at a news conference, along with Gov. Jay Inslee (center) and Secretary of Health Umair A. Shah (right), at the Capitol on Aug. 18 in Olympia. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren file)

Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal (left) holds up a face mask as he speaks at a news conference, along with Gov. Jay Inslee (center) and Secretary of Health Umair A. Shah (right), at the Capitol on Aug. 18 in Olympia. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren file)

Nearly 90% of Washington public school employees got the jab

As for the other 10%? Most got an exemption and a path to keep working. Only 470 people left jobs or were terminated.

OLYMPIA — Roughly 90% of public school employees in Washington are fully vaccinated, and only a couple hundred lost their jobs because they are not.

Among teachers and classroom aides, compliance with the state’s vaccine mandate was 90.4%, according to statewide data released Thursday by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Rates are slightly lower for classified employees, bus drivers, custodians and others working outside classrooms. Overall, 89.4% of 156,222 workers covered in the analysis had gotten the jab by the Oct. 18 deadline.

Just about everyone else — 10.3% — got an exemption and a path to continue working. Only 470 people resigned, retired or were terminated statewide for not complying with the directive.

“Let me say thank you to our educators. What we are seeing is stunning,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal said Thursday. “They love their kids. They love their community. They love their profession, even when it is brutally difficult.”

As for those who lost their jobs?

“We hate to see those folks go,” Reykdal said. “They made a tough choice. I hope they’ll reconsider.”

In Snohomish County, vaccination rates among school employees ranged from a low of 79.5% in the Darrington School District to highs of 96.4% in Edmonds and 95.9% in Everett. Those totals include workers who were in the process of becoming fully vaccinated when the deadline arrived.

“Our staff vaccination numbers clearly show that our staff has done an amazing job getting vaccinated to help keep our students and each other safe and healthy,” Everett Superintendent Ian Saltzman said.

Arlington schools had an 82.7% vaccination rate. That district gave 115 staffers an exemption, or roughly one out of seven.

“That’s a result of what individuals presented to us,” district spokesman Gary Sabol wrote in an email. “The state says individuals are allowed to request medical and religious exemptions and we responded to those requests.”

The Marysville School District, with an 89.1% vaccination rate, handed out 150 exemptions, the most of any district in Snohomish County.

“Approximately 90% of our staff are vaccinated and our staff is doing a great job implementing safety protocols,” interim Superintendent Chris Pearson said. “Our vaccinated rates are on par with districts across the state.”

Gov. Jay Inslee issued the vaccine mandate for state employees and health care workers on Aug. 9 and expanded it a week later to include employees in educational settings, including public and private schools, child care early learning and higher education.

Workers had until Oct. 18 to provide proof of full vaccination or an exemption for religious or medical reasons. Absent one or the other, they could face termination. A vaccination against the coronavirus is now a condition of employment for public and private entities covered by the mandate.

Districts provided the state with vaccination and exemption information for paid employees on the payroll as of Oct. 19. At the direction of OSPI, the data do not include volunteers and contractors not on the payroll, though the state mandate does apply to them.

Thus, information on potentially thousands of substitutes — including teachers, custodians and bus drivers — is not included in the calculation. Many but not all are in compliance. Those who are not are removed from substitute call lists until they are eligible, officials in several districts said.

Data gathered from districts statewide show 16,027 workers, or 10.3%, received an exemption. And they kept their jobs because districts came up with added work requirements to accommodate them.

By comparison, as of Monday, nearly 91% of state government workers had been fully vaccinated. State agencies accommodated 3.2% of roughly 62,500 workers subject to the mandate. And 1,795 state workers left their jobs or were terminated due to the mandate.

Those vaccine rates far exceed the general population. In Washington, 72.5% of those 12 years and older are fully vaccinated. In Snohomish County, it is 71.1%.

Reykdal said districts enjoy wide latitude in how exemptions and accommodations are handled. He said he wasn’t disappointed at the high number of unvaccinated employees working with and around students.

Inslee, speaking at a Thursday news conference, didn’t either.

“I am very encouraged by what (school districts) have been able to do,” he said, referring to the vaccination rates.

As to the exemptions, he said, “They are the employers. We are not.”

District officials said accommodations are handled on a case-by-case basis.

In the Edmonds School District, for example, the school board approved a memorandum of understanding with each of its unions spelling out options.

Teachers could seek to work in the district’s remote learning academy. Otherwise, they may continue in their classroom. But they must wear a KN95 mask and face shield, which the district provides, and get a COVID-19 test every Thursday. Masks and weekly tests are also a requirement in separate agreements reached with other unions. Testing — which, notably, is not an option for state workers — is available on school campuses.

When asked earlier this month why unvaccinated teachers are allowed back in classrooms, a district spokeswoman responded in an email: “For those who are granted a medical or religious exemption, the Edmonds School District will provide reasonable accommodations that balances the employee’s exemption with the district’s responsibilities to keep students and staff safe.”

Jerry Cornfield: jcornfield@heraldnet.com; 360-352-8623; Twitter: @dospueblos

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