Bellevue superintendent says he cannot agree to demands to wait for vaccines to expand in person learning

Bellevue teachers are among the first in any district to take a stance on the vaccine, saying they will not come back inside a classroom until all of their educators are immunized.

The Bellevue Education Association held an emergency meeting Tuesday voting on the matter. On Wednesday, Superintendent Dr. Ivan Duran told Q13 News said he cannot operate with that request.

"It’s a long ways off. I know that announcement was made this week, the distribution sites are inundated right now," Duran said.

Duran said he is disappointed with the union breaking their agreement to bring back 770 second-graders on Thursday. He said they’ve been in talks with the union for months.

But as far as Duran is concerned, the reopening plan is moving forward. The superintendent said second graders will be welcomed as planned on Thursday. They will be followed by first graders and kindergarteners in the coming weeks. He said substitute teachers and other certified staff will fill in the gap.

 "At this time, we believe we have a really strong coverage plan in place. Again, we are not only using substitute teachers, but utilizing certified staff," Duran said.

 Students will see sanitation stations, plexiglass, socially distanced desks and spaces.

"We have numerous safety and risk mitigation safety in place," Duran said.

Duran said they have been serving 800 students in person since September, many of them special education students. He said there has been zero transmission at their schools.

The latest survey said 66% of Bellevue parents support in-person learning, so it’s no surprise that many parents are voicing frustration over the tense situation.

 "I don’t know where this idea came that they should have the vaccine, which is ridiculous. No other employment does this," Bellevue mom Julie Kennedy said.

The top educational leader in our state Chris Reykdal pushed for recent changes to the state’s vaccine guidelines. The state is now allowing all educators to get vaccinated sooner and at the same time, although it is unclear when that will happen.

Reykdal said getting 142,000 people in the educational field will be important not only for public health but getting the economy going again.

Reykdal said he cannot comment on Bellevue’s labor dispute, but when it comes to vaccines and schools, he has a clear message.

 "You don’t need the vaccine to safely open schools," Reykdal said.

Reykdal said when it comes to young kids, schools have proven they can reopen safely for teachers and students.

"Washington State followed science, the science tells us we can open safely and so I understand we are headline-driven and very emotional," Reykdal said.

Reykdal's office is collecting data to see how many districts are expanding in-person learning at the moment.

"When they do it well, it’s just virtually no transmission we have test sites across the state," Reykdal said.

"With the complexity of the issue, I would say there is always the question of what data are you looking at," Bellevue Education Association President Allison Snow said.

Snow said due to community spread right now and safety concerns, an overwhelming majority of teachers don’t feel safe going back until a vaccine.  

On Tuesday night, teachers also voted to stop live remote instruction for the rest of the week if the district did not comply with their terms by Wednesday. The union saying teachers would only provide asynchronous independent lessons for the week.

"In the middle of this online mess taking away even more instruction, it’s very disappointing," Kennedy said.

Q13 News pressed Snow on why they decided to also hold back remote learning as a part of their negotiations.

 "It’s a valid question, the best answer I can give is that I think our educators feel we are at a point we have to make a stand," Snow said.

Snow said she hopes the issue will be resolved. But if an agreement does not happen by Friday they will hold another emergency meeting to decide what to do.

 "I understand their concerns too I just wish they would actually look at the statistics and the true facts that it can be done safely," Kennedy said.