LOCAL NEWS

Seattle School Board calls on state to implement COVID vaccine mandate for students

Nov 18, 2021, 12:26 PM | Updated: 12:36 pm
Seattle school vaccine mandate...
(Seattle Public Schools, Facebook)
(Seattle Public Schools, Facebook)

After weeks of delays, the Seattle School Board approved a resolution this week, calling on the state Department of Health to implement a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for students.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention granted emergency authorization for use of the Pfizer vaccine in children ages 5-11 in early November. Shortly after that approval was given, the Seattle School Board drafted a resolution asking the state to add the COVID vaccine to the existing list of immunizations students are required to receive in order to attend public school.

That list already includes vaccinations against Hepatitis-B, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox, with exceptions carved out for those who have approved religious or health reasons. In 2019, the state Legislature passed a bill removing the exemption for personal and philosophical reasons for the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine.

The school board subsequently put off voting on the resolution on two separate occasions, in hopes of engaging more with families, communities of color, and other stakeholders.

In its resolution, the Seattle School Board labeled the risks associated with COVID-19 transmission, illness, and death as “unacceptably high,” particularly among lower income and BIPOC students.

“Approved COVID-19 vaccines have proved to be safe and effective in sharply reducing the rates of transmission, illness and death,” the resolution reads. “However, students and families furthest from educational justice remain disproportionately impacted.”

Seattle school district reports 99% COVID vaccine compliance among staff

“Within Seattle Public Schools, we have seen a higher number of classrooms closed in Title I schools, and higher COVID-19 positivity rates in school communities with the highest numbers of students furthest from educational justice – in particular, those communities with the highest number of Black male students,” it continues.

Short of mandating the COVID vaccine for all students, the board believes that this trend will continue if it remains unaddressed at the state level.

“The alternative to actively urging the State to require eligible students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine is to passively wait and hope for state action,” it said. “This is not recommended. It is essential that the School Board advocate for the health and safety of our families, and for state action that will mitigate inequitable disparities in access to in-person education.”

Despite the board’s resolution, it may be awhile before the state considers a student vaccine mandate. According to state Superintendent Chris Reykdal, it likely won’t happen until there is full federal approval for the COVID vaccine in kids, rather than emergency authorization.

“I think it’s going to take quite a bit of time — I still do not anticipate a student vaccine requirement this year,” he told KIRO Radio’s Gee & Ursula Show in October. “I do think people should be prepared for that next year, that it would go on the list with the other vaccine requirements that our students comply with.”

Additionally, Reykdal has made it clear that a COVID vaccine mandate for children will not be a district decision.

“We’re going to take a statewide approach on this,” Reykdal said. “It isn’t going to be a district by district decision. What I have continued to tell the governor and public health officials — and I’ve been very public about — is this needs to go through the process that it would go through for any kid vaccine requirement.”

In mid-October, Seattle Public Schools reported that 99% of its nearly 7,300 full-time employees were in compliance with a recently-implemented vaccine mandate for city and state workers.

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Seattle School Board calls on state to implement COVID vaccine mandate for students