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Vaccine mandate, school employees, exemption
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Dori asks state superintendent who decides the sincerity of someone’s faith?

Washington Superintendent Chris Reykdal. (TVW)

Governor Jay Inslee announced on Wednesday a vaccine mandate for all K-12 public school staff in Washington state. They must now be vaccinated — with limited exceptions for medical or religious reasons — or risk losing their job. The mandate also applies to private and charter school staff statewide.

KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson pointed out after a Q13 interview that there was a vibe from State Superintendent Chris Reykdal where he was suggesting that if teachers didn’t want the vaccine, they could just say that they have a religious exemption. The governor’s office later said it expected Reykdal would clarify exemptions.

Was there a tiff between Reykdal and the governor’s office, Dori asked?

“There’s no gap on this thing at all and there’s no vibe,” Reykdal said. “This is a religious exemption and that means something. A personal exemption, or philosophical, you can just roll in, check a box, and say, ‘I’m not doing something,’ and it’s done.”

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Reykdal explained that the religious exemption is a higher threshold that requires explanation of the belief system that is in conflict. He said he might not have done a good job, previously, of explaining that. His office is working with the Attorney General’s office on the forms.

“Are we really going to have government deciding the sincerity of one’s faith now?,” Dori asked.

“That’s what makes this so hard,” Reykdal acknowledged. “This has existed for a long time and medical providers have been struggling through, … it’s new to us in education but they have struggled through. There’s a lot of guidance, as we understand. We expect those kinds of definitions to come our way.”

He told Dori he doesn’t know the details of it yet, but it doesn’t mean that they’re collecting signatures from faith leaders or verifying that you belong to a church.

“I think the hard part here is that it’s a legitimate right of government during a crisis like this to have a vaccine, a legitimate thing for folks to seek an exemption, and then there’s a fine line between the employee’s expression of religious belief and the employer getting to say, OK, we’re documenting that and providing that, or we’re questioning that.”

Reykdal says he expects they’ll see that paperwork from the Attorney General’s office by early next week.

The superintendent confirmed the mandate does not include parents visiting a school for a school play, athletic event, teacher conference or other event. It applies to people who have direct, prolonged contact with students.

Mandate for students

What about a mandate for students?

“We already have more than a half dozen requirements for kids to go to school,” Reykdal said, adding that before it came to that, the vaccine would have to be approved by the FDA, go through a federal review, and then be reviewed by state health boards.

He suspects it would take at least a couple years before it’s a school requirement.

“I do think some day this ends up on the list,” Reykdal said. “That sounds to me like a very long process, so I continue to believe that this is not anywhere in our near future. Heck, 5-11 year-olds aren’t authorized to take this thing at this point.”

Dori said he’s heard from bus drivers, teachers, and volunteers who say they won’t get vaccinated because of a mandate. Reykdal said he understands there will be challenges in staffing, but they’ll figure it out over time and attract people who are willing to take a vaccine as a condition of employment, just like a lot of health care workers.

“But that will take some time,” he said.

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from noon – 3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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