Rantz: Seattle Public Schools withheld COVID vaccine exemption forms in rigged process

Sep 6, 2021, 6:17 PM

Seattle schools, strike, exemption...

The Seattle Public Schools Board released information from their budgeting meeting at the end of January in which they detail a plan to cut costs by shutting down some schools. (Photo from KIRO 7)

(Photo from KIRO 7)

Seattle Public Schools (SPS) withheld the religious and medical exemption forms for the COVID-19 vaccination mandate until after the first deadline to get the Moderna vaccine passed. This entire process seems rigged against using exemptions.

School staff in Washington must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18, or they will be terminated. Medical and religious exemptions are supposed to be offered for employees who wish to seek them.

But a spokesperson for SPS confirmed that the district hadn’t sent out the forms yet. They are expected to go out this week. By the time staff receive the exemptions, it may be too late to use them.

Withholding the COVID vaccine exemption forms

What’s taking so long for the forms to go out?

The state’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction released a religious exemption form on Aug. 23 for districts to use. The office said the medical exemption form went out early in the week of Aug. 30.

Yet as of Friday, Sept. 3, neither form had been distributed to staff. SPS spokesperson Tim Robinson emailed the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH and said, “a communication about the forms will go out to staff next week. The forms will be available next week.”

It appears the forms were intentionally withheld.

LISTEN: Dr. Ben Carson weighs in on vaccine mandates

Making COVID vaccine exemptions an impossible task

Leaked emails show that Governor Jay Inslee’s office intentionally tried to disqualify as many staff as possible from using the religious exemption form. SPS may be trying to guarantee it.

To be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18, school staff had to receive the first Moderna shot by Sept. 6, before exemption forms went out. For Pfizer, staff must get the first shot by Sept. 13.

The timeline to comply with the mandate is nearly impossible. If the forms are released on Sept. 7 and staff submits on the same day, how long would human resources take to review the form?

According to Inslee’s proclamation, the district must perform an “individualized assessment and determination of each individual’s need and justification for an accommodation.” That takes time. What are the chances a staff member will have an answer by Monday? And if they get a rejection for accommodation, it will be too late for the Pfizer vaccine.

They must then search for Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine by Oct. 4. Washington doesn’t have as much of a supply of J&J as the other two vaccines.

Robinson, SPS spokesperson, did not respond to questions on why the forms went out so late or if the district believes the timeline this offers staff is fair.

SPS and Inslee are holding staff hostage

Staff with deeply held religious beliefs are in an agonizing position. They have no sympathizers in SPS or Inslee’s office.

If staff stick with their religious beliefs (which are supposed to be protected from discrimination), they will lose their jobs. If they betray their deeply-held convictions, they will live with the guilt.

For some, they may be forced into violating their beliefs to appease a governor leaning into his most terrifying authoritarian tendencies. But if they do, they’re unlikely to do it by the deadline.

Others may fear they won’t be able to comply with the mandate when their exemption is likely denied. Consequently, they will not even try to earn an exemption. They’ll go straight for the vaccine, coerced into a decision that violates their religious beliefs. Inslee and SPS may find this acceptable, but it’s morally reprehensible. If only Inslee and SPS leadership had a moral compass to guide their decisions.

The SPS delay of exemption forms puts unfair and discriminatory pressure on staff to give in and violate their religious convictions out of fear they won’t earn the accommodation they’re due.

Was this intentional?

This all seems intentional to me.

The strategy may be to deny all public-facing exemption requests. SPS will then claim the jobs cannot receive accommodation. Of course, that would be a lie. The district accommodated almost all jobs for 17 months.

This strategy appears to be underway at a state agency.

Leaked emails from two high-ranking members of the Washington State Patrol claim all public facing positions will be denied a religious accommodation.

“At this time, it has been confirmed that for any public-facing position, there are limited accommodations available,” one email reads.

“[T]here is no accommodation we can provide for their religious exemption requests,” it continues.

If the strategy hopes to avoid legal action by granting religious exemptions but denying accommodations, it may fail. The national nonprofit litigation group Liberty Counsel, which focuses on religious protections, sent a lengthy letter to Gov. Inslee. The group will take legal action if religious staff members are denied an exemption.

Did you like this opinion piece? Then listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (HD Radio 97.3 FM, HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow @JasonRantz  on  Twitter,  Instagram, and like me on Facebook

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