Area Districts Work to Comply With State’s Vaccination Mandate

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Yelm Community Schools and the Rainier School District have been working to track their employees to make sure their staff is in compliance with a statewide mandate that requires all school employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 18. 

Yelm Community Schools has 76 percent of its employees fully vaccinated, while the Rainier School District has reached the 60-percent threshold.

“We’re making solid progress,” said Brian Wharton, superintendent of Yelm Community Schools. “We have communicated multiple times to our employees and we’ve had multiple conversations with our association presidents, trying to let them know how we’re trying to work through this.”

Wharton said the vaccination mandate reaches further than school employees.

“We have to track substitutes,” he said. “We have to track coaches. A lot of our coaches are out of season right now. So, when it’s all said and done, we’ll be tracking more than 1,000 people. So that is a strong process that we have to put in place.”

Yelm Community Schools started the process by having its leaders — principals, administrators, department heads and building teachers — check the vaccination status of the employees they supervise.

“We were able to get an initial run of vaccination status for employees, and our principals and administrators took those lists and, wherever there was a hole, they talked with those employees and got their vaccination status or a request for an exemption,” Wharton said.

The district has not been able to check on the status of only about 2 percent of its employees to obtain vaccination information or to start the process of an exemption request for medical or religious reasons, Wharton said.

The district is now in the process of reviewing the 70 or so requests for exemption employees submitted as of Sept. 16.

Yelm Community Schools expects the percentage of vaccinated teachers to increase to north of 80 percent before the Oct. 18 deadline.

Wharton said the district has done a good job of notifying its employees when their deadline was to get the first Moderna shot in order to get their second shot on time.

“We finished that with Pfizer and then we’ll be focusing on our communication for those who want to get the Johnson and Johnson vaccine,” he said.

The district expected about 20 percent of the staff to use the exemption process, Wharton said.

“We are processing those requests for exemption and we feel pretty strongly that we will not lose any employees,” he said. “We’ve had a few— and I think off the top of my head it’s two (employees) — that have chosen to not return because of the mandate.”

While Yelm Community Schools has to touch base with more than 1,000 individuals affected by the mandate, the Rainier School District’s job is considerably smaller.

“We have 132 employees,” said Bryon Bahr, superintendent of the Rainier School District. “And so of those 132, 103 have responded with either a vaccination card or an exemption.”

Bahr said 60.6 per of the district’s staff is currently vaccinated, with an additional 17.42 percent participating in the exemption process.

“So we still have about 21.9 percent of the staff that have still not given us either the vaccination card or an exemption request,” Bahr said. “But in saying that, we were in contact with a lot of our staff who are saying they are waiting for their second shot. So they will have it before Oct. 18, and we will continue to send out communications to those who have not responded.”

No employees in the Rainier School District have elected to leave their positions because of the mandate, Bahr said.

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