Pierce County School District Won't Fire Staff Over COVID Vaccine, Risks State Funding

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Defying a mandate from Gov. Jay Inslee, Eatonville School District has failed to terminate staff members who aren't fully vaccinated, and the state has warned that its funding could be affected.

Inslee announced in August that all educators and school staff were required to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 or face termination. While there were religious and medical exemptions, the COVID-19 vaccine has become a condition of employment.

"We won't gamble with the health of our children, our educators and school staff, nor the health of the communities they serve," Inslee said in the August press conference.

On Oct. 20, Eatonville School District board members put forward a measure to terminate every staff member who had not been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. The district did not respond for comment before publication on how many staff members had not been vaccinated.

Board members shared their disdain for the mandate Wednesday. It was with a "heavy heart" that this measure was brought to a vote, board member Ronda Litzenberger said.

Litzenberger said the board worked hard to offer staff every opportunity to comply. He also said the district is grateful for their service.

Board member Matt Marshall said he does not want to lose employees.

"This is painful to put us between a rock and a hard place," he said at the meeting.

Board chair Jeff Lucas echoed Marshall's feelings.

"I lay this squarely at the feet of the state and Jay Inslee, and I'm profoundly unhappy about this," Lucas said. "Yet again, we're just put in a lousy place with no local input and just stuck taking it."

There were three school board members and the board chair present at the meeting. The motion failed in a voice vote, and there was no following roll call. It is unclear how each member voted, but Lucas said the motion did not pass.

The state said there will be repercussions if Eatonville does not comply with the vaccine mandate.

Director of communications at the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, Katy Payne, said if the office determines a school district knowingly has staff on payroll who have not provided proof of full vaccination or obtained an exemption, the state will provide notice. The district will have 15 days to provide proof of compliance with the proclamation. A second, 5-day notice will be given if no proof is provided.

"If the district doesn't provide proof of compliance within that timeframe, our office will withhold, and eventually reduce, the district's subsequent monthly apportionment payments," Payne said.

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