The largest school district in the state is considering asking the state Department of Health to require all Washington students to receive the coronavirus vaccine.
The Seattle School Board on Wednesday postponed a vote on a resolution to the DOH to take more time to engage with and educate the community about a vaccine mandate. The resolution, presented by Board President Chandra Hampson, urges the state Board of Health to add the COVID-19 vaccine, once it’s approved by the Food and Drug Administration for children ages 5 and older, to the list of immunizations students are required to have to attend in-person school.
Having the vaccine requirement for students will allow Seattle schools “to focus on education and not disease mitigation,” Hampson said.
Most board members were supportive of the vaccine mandate but wanted more time to speak with families, educators, elected officials and other school board members in King County. Board members Brandon Hersey and Lisa Rivera-Smith were interested in doing an equity analysis.
“There’s a lot of distrust amongst, I know especially the African-American community, with the vaccine,” Hersey said. “That’s my biggest concern because what I wouldn’t want is for us to advocate for something going to prevent or put families in the position to where they have to choose education or their conscience.”
The vote on the proposed resolution was moved to the board’s Nov. 3 meeting.
What Seattle schools does can have an impact on conversations in other parts of the state, Hampson said. It’s key to be in contact with other school district leaders, she said. Hampson has already been in talks with other district leaders and the Seattle Council PTSA, and has shared the resolution with the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
When the coronavirus vaccine is fully licensed and approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the state board of health “may consider” making it a requirement, board spokesperson Kelie Kahler said in an email.
The vaccine requirement would make schools safer and allow more students to “equitably access in-person education,” the Seattle schools resolution said. The resolution also cited the disproportional impact the pandemic has had on “students furthest from educational justice” because of inequities in technology, transportation and food security.
Requiring students to receive the vaccine will make school safer and help prevent disruptions to in-person learning, the resolution said.
Every school in the district has reported at least one positive case, according to Seattle schools’ COVID-19 dashboard. There’s been 414 positive cases in the district since the start of the school year, the majority being in the south part of the district. The case counts represent community transmission and may not have occurred at Seattle schools.
In Washington, 69% of children ages 12 and older are fully vaccinated and about 75% have received at least one dose. Last week, Pfizer asked the FDA to approve emergency use of the vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, The New York Times reported. A decision could be made by the end of the month.
School districts in Washington don’t have the authority to make a student vaccine requirement. It needs to come from the state. But in California, some of the largest school districts have already taken steps to require student coronavirus vaccinations.
Los Angeles Unified School District and Oakland Unified School District require students age 12 and older to receive the vaccine to attend in-person school. The San Diego Unified School District requires students 16 and older to be vaccinated.
California also became the first state in the country to announce a plan to add the coronavirus vaccine to the list of immunization to attend in-person school once it’s approved by the FDA for middle and high school children.