‘Vaccines are going to keep us in school’: Majority of Spokane-area school staff are vaccinated

SPOKANE, Wash. — The deadline is approaching for public school and state workers to get accommodations for vaccine exemptions or lose their jobs. Gov. Jay Inslee mandated all school staff and state workers to get fully vaccinated or an accommodation for an exemption by Oct. 18.

School human resources staff are working to go through accommodations. However, a majority of Spokane-area school staff are vaccinated.

In a board meeting Wednesday night, Spokane Public Schools (SPS) said of its 5,200 employees, including teachers, aides and more, 466 people asked for medical or religious exemptions. Three people left the district due to the mandate, including one teacher.

The district says these numbers could change as it continues to work through exemptions. For each person who requests an exemption, human resources staff have to sit down with each person to go through possible accommodations.

Vaccines, masks, they’re both difficult topics during the pandemic. Washington public school districts have no control over those mandates as they’re coming from the state.

Shadle Park High teacher Rob Archer would rather have the mandates than go back to online learning.

“This is my 26th year of teaching and last year was my worst,” Archer said. “Even my first year was better than last year. It was so overwhelmingly stressful.”

Teachers and students in SPS started with online learning then switched to hybrid learning. Eventually, elementary and middle schools went to full-time, in-person learning, but high schools did not.

“The overwhelming emotional stress, this is not what I signed up for. This is not why I wanted to be a teacher. This is not what good teaching is,” he said of last year’s schedule. “To be back in school is wonderful compared to what it was last year.”

Archer is part of the majority of Spokane-area school employees following the mandate.

“The vaccines are going to keep us in school,” he said.

The West Valley School District (WVSD) says it has 554 staff, 77 requested exemptions, and two left the district because of the mandate.

Of 616 staff in the East Valley School District (EVSD), 116 asked for exemptions and two also left due to the mandate.

Both those districts granted all exemptions for staff and are making accommodations.

Districts say they didn’t get specifics on what those accommodations are from the state, but it was recommended unvaccinated staff should wear extra PPE and get more testing. That’s what EVSD and WVSD will do, and those staff members will be getting tested by the school.

Some staff asking for exemptions could also get reassigned positions, too.

“In some cases, if a staff member is working with a medically fragile student, it could potentially be a change in their roles. We tried to work with staff. Obviously, any change is hard, but we’ve done the best we could to really work with each individual employee,” Adam Swinyard, the superintendent of SPS, said in the Wednesday night board meeting.

Vaccinated teachers like Archer won’t have to worry about a change to the job he loves.

“The vaccines, the masks, the social distancing, it’s about all of us coming together and deciding that we want to help each other,” Archer said.

Some districts, like SPS, have not heard from all staff members about their COVID-19 vaccine status or requests for an accommodation for exemptions. SPS says it hasn’t heard from 15 people, but continues to reach out to them.

RELATED: Spokane Public Schools says only 3 employees plan on leaving over vaccine mandate

Not hearing from those staff members about their intentions worries Michael Dunn, the superintendent of the NorthEast Washington ESD 101, which oversees more than a hundred public and private schools. He says not hearing from employees about their status could make it difficult for school districts to figure out staffing if they come up short.

4 News Now also reached out to the Mead School District and Cheney Public Schools for their numbers, but have not received the numbers yet.

The Central Valley School District says a majority of 2,100 staff members are vaccinated against COVID-19, as well, but couldn’t give specifics at the time. A school district spokesperson said, to their knowledge, no staff members have left due to the mandate.

RELATED: 2 East Valley School District employees leave because of vaccine mandate

READ: Exemptions, but no accommodations: Unvaccinated firefighters call mandate a ‘personal attack’