Washington Requires COVID-19 Vaccination for Teachers, Staff

By The Associated Press — August 19, 2021 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Amid a spike in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, Washington state is expanding its COVID-19 vaccine mandate to include all public, charter, and private school teachers and staff — plus those working at the state’s colleges and universities.

There is no weekly testing alternative, and those who are not fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 risk losing their jobs, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Wednesday. Full vaccination means two weeks after a final dose, meaning workers need the final dose of either Pfizer or Moderna, or the one-shot dose of Johnson & Johnson by Oct. 4.

Just like a vaccine mandate announced last week that applies to most state workers, private health care, and long-term care employees, the only opt-out is a medical or religious exemption. The education mandate includes all staff, including bus drivers and volunteers.

By not allowing a testing option, Inslee’s mandate appears to be the most sweeping of actions taken by any other state. Last week, California announced a similar mandate that covers both public and private schools, but allows testing instead of vaccination. Earlier this month, Hawaii required all Department of Education staffers to disclose their vaccination status or face weekly testing.

“We cannot continue to gamble with the health of our children, our educators, our school staff, parents or the public,” Inslee said.

The Democratic governor on Wednesday also expanded the statewide indoor mask mandate in place for non-vaccinated individuals to include those who are vaccinated, starting Monday.

Inslee’s office said the latest mandate also applies to college coaches, including Washington State football coach Nick Rolovich, who said he has declined to be vaccinated for personal reasons. Rolovich is one of two state employees scheduled to make more than $3 million this year along with Washington football coach Jimmy Lake.

In a statement, WSU Athletics didn’t directly address the issue of Rolovich but said “we will work to ensure the mandates in the Governor’s Proclamation are followed.”

More States Announcing Vaccine Mandates

On Aug. 19, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced a COVID-19 vaccination requirement for all teachers, educators, support staff, and volunteers in K-12 schools—similar to the mandate announced in Washington state, which also incudes employees at the state’s colleges and universities.

Officials with the Washington Education Association, a union representing public school employees, issued a statement after the announcement saying that educators “look forward to welcoming our students back in person this fall but to make that sustainable we must do everything we can to reduce the possibility of COVID transmission in our schools.”

“By vaccinating staff we reduce the possibility of infecting those who cannot be vaccinated, including our students under 12 years old,” wrote WEA President Larry Delaney.

The vaccine mandate does not apply to students, though K-12 students and staff are required to wear masks when the school year starts next month.

Washington’s vaccine mandate also applies to most childcare and early learning providers who care for children from multiple households. Tribal schools are not included, though Inslee strongly encouraged them to follow suit.

An estimated 363,000 employees are covered under the mandate, though it’s unclear how many within that group are already vaccinated. Of the 155,000 educators, school leaders and staff covered, Schools Superintendent Chris Reykdal said he believes about 70 percent of that group is already vaccinated.

“Our goal is to get them all vaccinated,” he said.

See Also

Teacher Lizbeth Osuna from Cooper Elementary receives the Moderna vaccine at a CPS vaccination site at Roberto Clemente High School in Chicago, Ill., Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021.
Teacher Lizbeth Osuna from Cooper Elementary receives the Moderna vaccine at a Chicago Public Schools vaccination site at Roberto Clemente High School.
Anthony Vazquez/Chicago Sun-Times via AP

Inslee’s press conference was originally set to be held at an Olympia elementary school, but was moved to the governor’s conference room due to security concerns after an anti-mandate group planned to protest at the school. Last Friday, more than 300 people gathered at the Capitol to protest the state worker and health care vaccine mandates.

Before Wednesday’s news conference, several dozen protesters gathered near the legislative building to demonstrate both the vaccine and mask mandates, carrying signs that read “No Jab” and “Unmask our kids.” At one point during Inslee’s remarks, protesters could be heard in the rotunda shouting, “We do not consent.”

Republican Rep. Alex Ybarra said in a statement that it is “wrong for the governor to force caring, experienced, and dedicated educators to get a vaccination or have their jobs, livelihoods, and dreams ripped away from them.”

“It was my choice to get vaccinated,” he wrote. “That’s the way it should be — a personal health care choice. It should not be a requirement for employment.”

As for the expanded indoor mask mandate, some areas had already imposed directives in their areas, and the state’s local health officers have recently recommended the wearing of masks indoors. The statewide mask mandate builds on the recommendation that Inslee made last month to follow federal guidance and “recommend” that everyone regardless of vaccination status wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas where there is “substantial or high” rates of COVID-19.

As of Monday, all of the state’s 39 counties were in the “high” threshold range, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There have been more than 471,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases — plus more than 49,000 “probable” cases — in Washington state, and 6,297 deaths. State health officials say that most of the state’s new infections are caused by the delta variant, a more contagious version of the coronavirus.

“We have a serious situation right now,” said Department of Health Secretary Umair Shah. “This delta variant is a game changer.”

As of last week, nearly 71.5 percent of people age 12 and older have initiated vaccination and about 63 percent are fully vaccinated.

Related Tags:

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated: September 22, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
9 min read
Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)