KING COUNTY, Wash. - Several thousands of teachers and school employees across Washington are outraged about Gov. Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement.
Heidi Hartnell, a kindergarten teacher in Chelan County, is one of them.
"There’s the idea of my body, my choice and now I’m not able to make this decision for myself," said Hartnell. "We don’t know the long-term effects. There’s not time that we’ve given to see how this pans out in years."
The kindergarten teacher said she decided not to get the vaccine and worries it could cost losing her job.
"I’m the primary income for my family and so that does put us in a very difficult place. But we have firm convictions and beliefs that this is not the right thing to do, to take this vaccine for our family. So, we are willing to handle the fallout of that," said Hartnell.
The governor’s vaccine mandate does include medical and religious exemptions. Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal said he anticipates people will use them.
"There are no forces out there that are going to force people to go document the church they belong to or get a signature from a member of the clergy or their synagogue or their masque. There’s no role for us in that. We will listen to employees who say I have a deeply held conviction about this practice, and I don’t take shots or I’m not taking shots and I’m going to honor that," said Reykdal.
Questions are rising—what if several school employees claim a religious exemption? And does this make the vaccine mandate seem hallow? Reykdal said he’s working with the attorney general on the rule.
"The language that is used by attorneys in this says a deep held religious conviction or practice. So, it’s called a religious exemption, but it has this ability for folks to sort of value this decision, not necessarily based on a religious affiliation, but belonging to a particular church. That’s why we’re working the language out with the attorney general’s office. Some people say that’s just a philosophical exemption and I think in many ways that’s that fine line that exists. Buts it has been described as a religious exemption under the governor's proclamation—it has the ability for people to say I just don’t do vaccines and we’re going to honor that," said Reykdal.
Hartnell said she hopes claiming an exemption will save her job.
"I am going to pursue the religious exemption route because I do have sincerely held religious beliefs that this is not what I need to be doing," said Hartnell.
Larry Delaney, president of the Washington Education Association, said he supports the state’s vaccine requirement and is urging union members to follow it. In a written statement, Delaney said, "WEA supports implementing the recommendations of public health experts to mitigate COVID risks. Vaccines are a safe and effective tool to reduce COVID transmission. By vaccinating staff we reduce the possibility of infecting those who cannot be vaccinated, including our students under 12 years old."
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