OLYMPIA — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal renewed his call Friday for Gov. Jay Inslee to order all public school employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 or face dismissal if they do not qualify for an exemption.
And he warned that schools could be shut down and students quarantined on a regular basis in the coming year without additional actions to combat a continuing surge in coronavirus infections from the highly transmissible delta variant.
“We can open schools safely on time this year. We can keep them open. But it is going to require additional measures not yet taken, but ones that I am recommending,” Reykdal said at a news conference.
Reykdal said he hopes for an announcement next week by the governor.
On Thursday, he sent Inslee a letter “strongly encouraging” the governor to compel all teachers and staff in public schools to provide proof they have received a COVID-19 vaccine by Oct. 18 as a condition of employment — the same mandate Inslee issued earlier this week to 60,000 state workers and roughly 400,000 health care providers.
Exemptions for religious and medical reasons are allowed under that mandate and should be extended to school employees, Reykdal said.
With students starting a new school year this month in some places, he said, it is not too late for a vaccine mandate to be effective in preventing campus closures or other dire consequences.
“It is never too late unless we find ourselves in the middle of the school year shutting down because we did not do this,” he said.
Also Friday, Reykdal said students who are eligible for a COVID vaccine should be required to get one, just as they must obtain other vaccinations as a condition of enrollment.
That is not part of his request to Inslee, he stressed. That decision is the purview of state health officials, and Reykdal said he will let that process play out.
And Reykdal cautioned school district leaders against violating an executive order by Inslee requiring students, teachers and staff to mask up inside school buildings. That order has the power of law, he said, and failure to comply will result in the state withholding a portion of a district’s monthly apportionment.
Reykdal said he is unaware of any districts planning to violate the order. Opponents of the mask rules are getting vocal, holding rallies and pressuring school boards to willfully violate the law.
One group, Unmask Our Kids Washington, is organizing a demonstration at the state Capitol on Monday, according to posts on Facebook. It is also encouraging foes of the mandate to hold rallies at their local school district offices on Wednesday.
Jerry Cornfield: email@example.com; @dospueblos