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Washington state announces its plan to vaccinate upwards of 80% of K-12 school employees

WHATCOM-EDUCATOR-VACCINE-ACESS
A pharmacist prepares a COVID vaccine. The Bellingham School District plans to bring more students into schools starting Feb. 18, 2021 as state officials prepare to roll out vaccination plan for Washington educators. // Photo by Steven Cornfield on Unsplash

By Silvia Leija

State Education Superintendent Chris Reykdal announced a new partnership with health care company Kaiser Permanente on Jan. 29 as schools in the Bellingham School District continue to migrate to in-person classes.

The “Get Ready” plan will focus on supporting a safe return to school for educators once they become eligible under the state’s vaccination protocols, according to the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. 

“Keeping our educators and school staff safe is very important to me,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in the release. “This announcement does not allow educators to move ahead in the current prioritization, it means when it is their turn, we are ready to move ahead.”

According to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, the plan includes approximately 14 to 20 vaccination locations along the I-5 corridor and in Spokane, which will be able to offer vaccines to upwards of 80% of school employees. 

“Although our schools are already reopening safely without widespread vaccinations, we know this will expedite that process and ultimately benefit our students, their families, our educators, and staff and our communities,” Reykdal said.

Educators and staff in K-12 schools are eligible for the vaccine after 50% of those currently eligible are vaccinated, according to plans from the Washington State Department of Health.

According to the Washington State Department of Health, those currently eligible to receive the vaccine in Washington include high-risk healthcare workers, first responders and people over the age of 50. 

The next phase of the vaccine rollout, which includes educators and staff in K-12 schools who are 50 years or older, is expected to begin in February. Teachers and school staff under the age of 50 will likely be eligible for COVID-19 vaccines in the spring.

During a press conference Jan. 29, Susan Mullaney, regional president for Kaiser Permanente in Washington said, “Vaccines are a crucial step needed to get our students and school employees back to school safely, and we are preparing the needed infrastructure now so we can be launch-ready when our state approves the next phase of eligibility.” 

According to the Bellingham School District, third graders through eighth graders and staff will return to in-person classes starting Thursday, Feb. 18. 

Superintendent Greg Baker cited a decline in COVID-19 cases in the county as a key factor influencing reopening plans and requests from families. 

“I hear from families daily, asking us to bring more students back to school,” Baker said in a news release Feb. 5. “Often with a strong emphasis on social, emotional and mental health concerns of their children, especially when it comes to isolation and motivation.”

Christina Mendoza, a mother of a fourth grader in the district disagrees. 

“I think that the school district using that as an excuse is a sidestep,” Mendoza said.

Mendoza said she would feel more comfortable with sending her child to school if there was widespread access to vaccines for all educators and staff. 

“I think it is possible to maintain online school and better support the student’s social-emotional health with counseling sessions and intentionally setting time aside for students to socialize online,” Mendoza said.


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