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Washington superintendent asks for vaccine mandate for public school employees

caption: A sign welcomes students back to Glacier Middle School in SeaTac in April 2021, after months of remote learning during the Covid-19 pandemic.
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A sign welcomes students back to Glacier Middle School in SeaTac in April 2021, after months of remote learning during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Glacier Middle School Facebook

Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal said Friday that keeping schools open will be a challenge without extra safety measures to combat the Covid-19 delta variant.

Reykdal is asking Governor Jay Inslee to expand his mandate requiring state workers to be vaccinated to include public school employees.

Reykdal wants getting the Covid-19 vaccine to be a condition of employment, with appropriate medical and religious exemptions.

"For those folks who are frustrated by mask requirements or vaccine requirements, they need to understand the consequences of a variant like delta impacting us as it is clearly doing in parts of the country with devastating impacts,” Reykdal said Friday during a press conference.

“We will have to shut down schools, we will have to shut down buildings, or quarantine significant numbers of students on a regular basis. That disruption of learning has a big impact on our learners, on our families, our economy,” he said.

RELATED: 'A very rough fall in Seattle for pediatric patients' as delta variant spreads

Reykdal said it would be up to the governor’s office to come up with an appropriate deadline for staff vaccinations if a mandate is put in place. But he said it would not delay the start of school. Reykdal also said the mandate would not apply to students.

Reykdal said he hopes and expects Governor Inslee will move forward with the his request. The Governor's office has not publicly responded to Reykdal's request.

“As with all this around Covid, we continue to look for ways to ensure the health and safety of all Washingtonians. We believe that as many people as possible should be vaccinated, especially those who work with vulnerable populations. We will continue to look at policies to increase the vaccination rate,” said a statement from the governor’s office.

The state's teachers union, the Washington Education Association (WEA), said in a statement that the health and safety of educators, students, families and communities has been their top priority throughout the pandemic.

“All along we have said that we will follow the guidance of public health experts. If it is the opinion of public health experts that a vaccine mandate is the next best step to take to control this pandemic, WEA will support that position,” the statement said.

One safety measure that is already required is masking in schools. Masks are required by the governor for everyone in public schools, regardless of vaccination status.

Reykdal said Friday that any school district that chooses to violate the mask mandate will have a portion of funds withheld.

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