While Sequim School Board directors won’t be pushing to make decisions about masking or vaccination requirements at a local level, as many as two dozen district employees may receive letters that their positions are in jeopardy.
Teachers and support staff across Washington state face an Oct. 18 deadline of showing proof of COVID-19 vaccination — or declare a religious exemption — meaning they would have to have their second vaccination shot completed by Oct. 4 (followed by a two-week period to achieve full vaccination).
As of Oct. 4, about 24 staffers in the Sequim district have not provided documentation or claimed an exemption, district human resources director Victoria Balint told school board members Monday night.
“We need all of our people; we can’t afford to lose even one,” she noted in a presentation about her department to the board.
“We still have a couple of weeks (until the Oct. 18 deadline) but letters will go out tomorrow morning,” she said Monday.
Balint said religious exemptions — accommodations really, she said, are handled locally.
“We are hopeful those accommodations are going to work,” she said.
Board director Brian Kuh, who noted Monday “I’m flatly opposed to the vaccine mandates,” asked fellow board members to consider a statement to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, Gov. Jay Inslee and state board of health that decisions about masks and vaccine requirements be made at a local level, in consultation with the local health director and school superintendent.
“This covid situation has been an incredibly impassioned topic… but I feel very strongly … that these decisions should be made as close to the parents as possible,” he said. “At the end of the day our parents know what’s best for their students.
“The governor has no business with what’s happening in Sequim, in Tonasket, in Enumclaw, Walla Walla.
“Part of that is borne in frustration; I fully accept we are cut off at the knees to make these decisions right now. I would like for that not be the case.”
The other board directors, however, declined to put support behind such a letter.
“In almost all cases agree decisions should be made locally,” director Eric Pickens said. “(But) I don’t think I would be in favor of what director Kuh had suggested.
“I think we need to be unified what is the safest course of action for our students, our staff. Even if (this is) sending a message about local decisions, in this current climate, I think it sends a completely different message (and) would be contrary to message I’d be supportive of.”
Pickens noted that a district in non-compliance would face significant liability issues, even if it were to fund its own insurance.
Non-compliance with masking and vaccination requirements could see cutting off of state funding, board president Brandino Gibson noted in previous meetings.
“We rely on state funding to keep doing what we’re doing,” board director Larry Jeffryes said.
“I agree, it’s local decision (to) do what we do for the best of our students. I think that’s exactly what we’re doing, following the mandates of the governor,” he said.
“I think it’s’ going to be like this for a while. It’s best if we follow these mandates.”
Gibson said he isn’t for a vaccination mandate for state workers — a supervisor at WorkSource for Clallam & Jefferson Counties, he’s in a position of losing some employees if they refuse to get vaccinated, he said Monday — but that he wouldn’t support such a letter, noting that for example, he wouldn’t want county officials deciding the legal drinking age.
Facility naming policy moves forward
Board directors got a first look at a draft Monday night of a policy that would outline steps toward naming and/or renaming facilities.
The policy — which came up for consideration to the board after months of support from the Sequim Alumni Association and other community members to name the Sequim High athletic field for SHS “superfan” Myron Teterud — starts the process for naming of district property with a committee but leaves a final decision to school board directors.
Previous district policy, last updated in the late 1990s, included language about naming buildings but not fields, interim superintendent Jane Pryne said Monday.
Board directors read aloud four more public comments Monday in support of honoring Teterud.
The board may consider the policy for a second reading and possible adoption at its next regular meeting set for Oct. 18.