No COVID vaccine mandate expected for Washington students, but kids will likely wear masks all school year

OLYMPIA, Wash – The leader of public schools in Washington does not feel it’s appropriate for the state to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for students this year, but that could change if and when the vaccine is fully authorized for kids.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal shared that sentiment as part of an update Thursday on the situation in schools.

Reykdal does not expect the state to lift the mask mandate for schools this school year. Every district in the state requires masks, per a state order.

In his news conference, Reykdal touted the success of the state mandate that requires all school employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Reykdal said 90% of school employees statewide are fully vaccinated, which far outpaces the statewide average.

This refers to public school employees only, but private school employees were subject to the state mandate.

“Our K–12 workforce really stepped up in a way that further protects themselves, their students, colleagues, families, and their communities at large,” Reykdal said. “With our adherence to safety protocols and nearly 90 percent of staff vaccinated, our schools remain one of the safest environments for our children.”

Statewide, Reykdal said 0.3% of school employees chose to leave their jobs rather than get the vaccine or request an exemption.

School districts handled vaccine exemption requests at a local level. Ten percent of school employees were granted religious exemptions, compared to three percent among other state agencies.

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Reykdal said public schools statewide saw a 3.5% enrollment decline this year. He encouraged the state not to reduce funding for schools because of the decline.

In regards to a vaccine mandate for students, Reykdal said it doesn’t feel appropriate right now. He said there’s a big difference in the relationship between employer and employee than the relationship between educators and students.

Reykdal said he would support such a mandate next year, assuming the vaccine has gone through the complete FDA authorization process by then.

Governor Inslee, when asked the same question said his position is the same as Superintendent Reykdal and it’s too early to tell when it would even be under consideration.