U.S.|Washington State imposes the strictest school mandate in the U.S., requiring all teachers and staff to be vaccinated.
All teachers and school personnel in Washington State — including coaches, bus drivers and volunteers — will need to be fully vaccinated as a condition of employment, under a new policy announced by Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday. The requirement applies to staff regardless of the type of school in which they work: public, charter or private.
The policy is the strictest vaccine mandate imposed to date by any state for teachers and other staff members in schools, allowing for only a few exceptions. School staff must be vaccinated by Oct. 18 or face possible dismissal.
“We are well past the point where testing is enough to keep people safe,” Mr. Inslee said at a news conference. “We’ve tried it. It has not been adequate for the task at hand.” He stressed that 95 percent of patients hospitalized with Covid-19 in Washington were unvaccinated.
Vaccine mandates have been hotly debated across the country, with a quarter of states, generally those led by Republicans, banning vaccine requirements for public employees like school staff, according to the Center on Reinventing Public Education. But in recent days, some Democratic officials have moved to require the shots.
Gov. Gavin Newsom of California has offered teachers the option of either vaccination or regular virus testing. City school systems in Los Angeles and Chicago have gone further to require staff vaccination, though there is an exemption process for those with disabling medical conditions or sincerely held religious beliefs.
Washington’s policy goes further than California’s. There is no option to choose regular testing instead of vaccination. There are limited exceptions, however, including for legitimate medical reasons and sincerely held religious beliefs. Individuals who refuse to get vaccinated will be subject to dismissal.
Washington lagged most of the rest of the nation in reopening schools during the last academic year, as teachers’ unions across the state pushed for longer periods of remote learning, stricter virus safety measures in classrooms and access to vaccines for educators. All districts are planning for a five-day per week return to in-person learning this fall. Most districts reopen in early September.
On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the Washington Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, said she expected local chapters would be able to negotiate some details of the vaccine requirement. The union said in a statement that it “encourages everyone who can to get vaccinated immediately” and emphasized the continued importance of other safety measures in schools, such as masks, contact tracing, testing and social distancing.
Jennifer Matter, president of the Seattle Education Association, which is the teachers’ union in the state’s largest school district, said the union and state “have a shared interest in creating a vaccine requirement to keep our community safe.”
Ms. Matter said that her union planned to negotiate with the district on how the mandate will be implemented. The negotiations could include a process for requesting an exemption or provisions for time off to get a vaccine or recover from side effects, she said.
Leaders of the two national teachers’ unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, have said they support vaccine mandates for school staff.
The governor also announced new mandates for workers in the state’s colleges and universities, as well as for many child care workers. And he announced that the state’s indoor mask mandate will be expanded to include vaccinated individuals.