School slots and vaccine mandate
Seattle Public School students in grades 1-12 will return to full-time in-person learning Sept. 1. SPS said a limited number of students in grades K-5, and not middle or high schoolers, can enroll in virtual learning for the school year.
Students who have an underlying health condition or a mental health issue, live in a household with a family member at risk for COVID-19 or have, perhaps due to racism, experienced an increased sense of safety in remote learning will be prioritized for virtual slots.
“We recognize that students under the age of 12 are unable to receive the vaccine and we are focusing our online, high-quality learning services on our youngest learners,” the district’s website states.
If vaccines are allowed for younger children, students can transfer to in-person instruction, but will need to go through an appeal process and are not guaranteed a spot back at their neighborhood school.
In an Aug. 12 email, SPS Superintendent Brent Jones said, “As a condition of employment, employees will have until October 18, 2021, to become fully vaccinated. There are limited exemptions from this requirement for documented medical reasons and sincerely held religious beliefs.” The effect is that all non-union employees must be vaccinated or risk termination.
The district is enforcing mask-wearing for staff and students, regardless of vaccination status, regular hand-washing, physical distancing and contact tracing. Jones also said the district would soon have free COVID-19 testing at every school building.
Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal held a press conference Aug. 13 urging Gov. Jay Inslee to enforce a vaccine mandate for public school employees. Inslee issued a vaccine mandate Aug. 9 for most state employees and public and private health care workers but has not included schools.
Reykdal said 30,000-40,000 of the state’s public school personnel are unvaccinated. Without a vaccine mandate, Reykdal predicts schools will be forced to quarantine often due to COVID-19 outbreaks.
Back-to-school concern is reaching a fervor as the traditional school year begins, especially with news that three unvaccinated educators in a Florida school district died from COVID-19 a week ago.
Eastern Washington campsites closed
Due to extreme fire danger, the Washington Department of Natural Resources has temporarily closed all recreational and public access to DNR-managed lands in eastern Washington, including most of the 80 campgrounds it manages.
As of Aug. 17, there were at least 22 large, active wildfires in the state. The department said the closures will remain in effect until fire conditions improve in these fire-prone areas.
Samira George covers real people living real lives in the Puget Sound. Follow her on Twitter @samirakgeorge.
Read more of the Aug. 18-24, 2021 issue.