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Vaccine mandate for Washington school workers comes amid staffing shortages

Bus drivers in particular face shortages as school districts prepare for the 2021-2022 school year.

BURIEN, Wash. — Washington's newly announced vaccine mandate for school teachers and staff came at a time when districts statewide are dealing with school employee shortages.

"The shortage issues for us are not new, unfortunately," said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal.

Reykdal detailed the plans alongside Gov. Jay Inslee during a news conference Wednesday.

The mandate makes full COVID-19 vaccination a condition of employment in Washington. Employees, including teachers, school staff, coaches, volunteers and bus drivers, have until October 18 to be fully vaccinated.

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The requirement raises the question of whether staff will leave their jobs if they're forced to be vaccinated -- something the governor said he does not want.

"Don't leave your career unless you talk to your doctor about this vaccine," said Inslee.

Reykdal said 40,000 to 50,000 Washington school workers and contractors have yet to be vaccinated, as Inslee brought up an additional warning.

"If you leave, the vast majority of people will not be eligible for unemployment compensation either," said Inslee.

The mandate does not worry Scott Logan, chief operations officer at Highline Public Schools, a district that serves 18,000 students in Burien, Des Moines, Normandy Park, SeaTac and White Center.

"We have a high vaccination rate already in the district," said Logan.

Logan oversees school bus operations for Highline and said the district is currently trying to hire 12 additional drivers to be fully staffed. The ideal number would be 95 drivers total, but the target is 85 drivers that would include substitute or part-time drivers, according to Logan.

"It is a challenge to keep a full gamut of bus drivers on course and ready to go," said Logan.

Logan said the district will look into allowing other school staff with bus driving credentials to substitute, or reduce routes to the number of drivers available should they not be able to hire 12 additional drivers by the new school year.

Logan said the vaccine mandate, meanwhile, should not impact the current staff.

"Our hope is that those who are not vaccinated talk with their doctors and get all the information they need to make an informed decision," said Logan.

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