School staff and childcare workers on Vashon have raced to line up for vaccinations since President Joe Biden directed governors in all states to prioritize that group of workers for vaccine distribution if they had not already done so.
Biden’s order came on March 2. By the end of the same day, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that he was following the President’s directive.
Workers up next in Inslee’s revised schedule for vaccination will be law enforcement, firefighters and corrections staffers, public transit workers, grocery store staff, and workers in food processing and agricultural sectors.
That group’s turn to get in line will start around March 22. Also, people over age 16 who are pregnant and have a disability that puts them in a high-risk category are included in this phase.
Shawn Hoffman, the owner of Vashon’s IGA, said that although his staff had not experienced any COVID infections throughout the pandemic, he was excited to know his workers would soon be eligible for vaccination.
“We’ve been fortunate,” he said. “It’s been a year, and every day, you’re on pins and needles.”
For school staff and childcare workers, Inslee’s allowance for school and childcare workers also came not a moment too soon, as Vashon Island School District began its rollout of hybrid in-person education last week.
This week’s Emergency Operations Center report (see page 8) details that almost 300 teachers and child care workers have now received their first dose of the vaccine, thanks to swift coordination by SeaMar Clinic and Vashon Pharmacy.
In-person preschool and kindergarten at VISD began on March 1; students in grades 1 to 3 will return on Monday, March 15, followed by the return of grades 4 and 5 on March 29. If health metrics allow, grades 6 to 12 could also return to hybrid learning on April 16.
Last week, Vashon’s teacher’s union, Vashon Education Association (VEA), as well as the union representing specialists, para-educators and office staff, Vashon Education Support Personnel (VESP), approved revised bargaining agreements with the school district. The revised memorandums of understanding (MOU’s) detailed additional health, safety and leave protections for their members, said representatives of the unions.
In an email, leaders of VEA expressed their excitement at welcoming students back to school — and also deep gratitude to VashonBePrepared, Vashon’s Medical Reserve Corps doctors, SeaMar and Vashon Pharmacy owner Tyler Young for all moving quickly to vaccinate school staff as soon as they were cleared by the governor to do so.
VEA’s revised MOU, they said, had a special focus on safety committees established by the district, with clear reporting procedures for all staff members including building leaders and members of VEA, VESP and SEIU, which represents kitchen and custodial staff.
VESP co-presidents Elizabeth Parrish and Colby Gateman also said, in an email, that they were ecstatic about Biden’s push for school staff vaccination and grateful to SeaMar and Vashon Pharmacy for stepping up quickly to vaccinate their members.
They said that they were hopeful their revised bargaining agreement with the district would help make their members feel more comfortable about returning to work under difficult circumstances.
“We will continue to have ongoing conversations within our labor/management meetings with the District to fine-tune our agreement and troubleshoot problems as they emerge,” said Parrish and Gateman. “It is going to take the cooperation and commitment of teachers, staff, students and families to create a strong school culture that focuses on health, safety and learning.”
A third of Chautauqua Elementary’s parents did not opt to send their children back to in-person school; online education will still be offered to these students.
Islander Kaycie Alanis is one of those parents. She, too, said she was happy to see school staff prioritized for vaccination.
“I’m thrilled that Inslee announced vaccine eligibility for teachers and I’m confident that the schools will roll this out quickly and efficiently with the MRC’s partnership,” Alanis said. “Our family is still committed to distance learning for this school year, though, since there is no crystal ball. With at least one new variant already in King and Pierce Counties, we’d rather err on the side of safety for ourselves and the rest of our community.”
Meanwhile, at Vashon’s Harbor School, a private school serving kindergartners through middle school, plans are also rolling out to bring students back for more in-person education.
Head of School Terri Rutledge said that the school’s 78 students already had been having limited in-person, outdoor time at the school since September, but hours spent at school for all students would be increasing in the coming weeks.
Harbor School kindergartners and first-graders are already back at school for two full days a week, she said, and in the coming weeks, grades 2 to 5 and middle school students will also move to two full days a week.
Previously, she said, elementary students had spent two or three half-days at the school, depending on grade level, while middle school students had attended for one half-day per week.
Rutledge said that Harbor School students would still have lots of outdoor time at the school, but that some activities more appropriate for indoor learning could now take place inside, with strict safety protocols in place.
She said that all of the school’s nine teachers had been quickly vaccinated in the last few days — a turn of events that had made her feel joyful.
The school plans to carefully monitor health conditions moving forward, and if possible, implement even more in-person learning before the end of the school year.
“If we don’t see any problems, then we’d like to open it up to five days a week by the last month of school,” Rutledge said.