By Airik Myers, The Seattle Medium
While many public-school districts in Washington State are experiencing staffing issues due to Gov. Inslee’s statewide mandate for public employees to be vaccinated in order to continue working, Seattle Public Schools (SPS) is boasting a 99 percent vaccination rate for their staff.
According to officials, SPS has been able to retain most of its employees, despite the statewide vaccine mandate. Tim Robinson, Media Relations Specialist for Seattle Public Schools, says that with such overwhelming numbers parents can rest assured that the teacher pool within SPS can fully support the needs of the district.
By contrast, Tacoma Public Schools recently announced the offering of hiring bonuses in order to fill open position in their district. The district is also seeking emergency substitute teachers and has temporarily changed the requirements so that more people can be eligible to teach.
“Our teachers vaccination rate was over 99%,” said Robinson. “We just had such a low number of teachers who are not going to get vaccinated, that it [is] a non-issue and it is not affecting the teacher pool.”
Robinson believes that the high vaccination rates in the district is a direct reflection on the area that it serves.
“In King County, there is, generally speaking, a very high vaccination rate,” Robinson stated. “And it would be logical to assume that large organizations, like Seattle Public Schools, with several thousand employees [are] going to be leaning that same way, as members of this community.”
SPS has set up an interactive dashboard (https://www.seattleschools.org/resources/covid-19-dashboard/) to view Covid-19 numbers in the district. The user can select any date range and are able to see the breakdown of students, staff and other people associated with SPS that have contracted the disease. According to the dashboard, SPS had had a total of 540 COVID cases in the district this year, with 474 of those being students and 66 being faculty and staff.
Although the vaccination rate is high, Robinson says that SPS is still being proactive when it comes to virus. SPS has and continues to provide Covid-19 testing sites at every SPS building. In addition, there were vaccination clinics at several locations provided by SPS at the beginning of the school year, and the district will open some new vaccination clinics in November.
If a breakout were to occur, the school where it occurred would go back to the online learning model that was utilized last school year. If staff or students contract the virus, they must remain in quarantine at home and conduct their work from there if they are able to.
“We can’t, as a district say, we’re going to go to all remote learning because that’s something that has to be decided at the state level,” stated Robinson. “We were mandated by the Governor to return to in-person learning this year, as were all school districts. So that’s what we’re doing.”
Over the past school year, the number of employees that the school district has retained has been very similar. In September 2020 there were 7,541 employees in Seattle Public Schools, whereas in July of 2021, there were 7,513 employees. The most recent employment numbers for this year, as of October 19, show that there are currently 7,397 staff, teachers and administrators employed by the district.
The slight drop-off of employees can be attributed to many factors, including termination of staff that chose not to get vaccinated. However, according to Robinson, there have only been nine terminations that have been served so far. An additional, 205 employees were granted a medical or religious exemption to the vaccination mandate, and five exemptions were denied.
Given these numbers, it appears that SPS is setting a good example on how to deal with the pandemic with regards to education. With an extremely high vaccination rate and steps in place to keep students and teachers safe, the district is attempting to make this abnormal time as safe as possible. The tools and procedures they provide for all members of the school community can be a good blueprint for other districts as they try to reach the vaccination and staff retention numbers of SPS.
“We have always been urging everyone to get vaccinations, knowing that it is one of the best defenses against the spread of COVID,” Robinson adamantly expressed. “So, we’ve been putting out that messaging to the folks who can get vaccinations, come on by, you can get your vaccination here. And there’s been great response.”
This article is one of a series of articles produced by The Seattle Medium through support provided by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to Word In Black, a collaborative of 10 Black-owned media outlets across the country.