East Valley High School teacher Hipolito Hernandez

East Valley High School physics and chemistry teacher Hipolito Hernandez receives a COVID-19 booster shot Friday, Oct. 22, 2021, at a clinic in the school's cafeteria from medical assistant Naryvel Pamplona in Yakima, Wash.

Yakima County school districts have accounted for the vast majority of their staff members’ vaccine status following Monday’s state deadline to have educators fully vaccinated or covered by an exemption.

Locally, school district employees did not leave en masse, as some feared would happen statewide when the mandate was first announced. Few districts had employees leave, and those that did reported low numbers.

Religious exemptions were far more common than medical ones for employees who remain unvaccinated.

Accommodations for unvaccinated employees vary between districts. Within individual districts, accommodations may be in place based on an employee’s individual situation. Generally, employees might need to wear a KN95 mask, undergo regular testing and eat meals away from others.

The Yakima School District is one of the largest employers in the city with 2,076 regular employees. Fewer than 0.5% of employees have requested a leave so far this school year. Whether those leave requests were because of the mandate is unknown, district spokesperson Kirsten Fitterer said.

“That is such a small number, and we have resignations every year. We have folks that choose leave every year,” Fitterer said. “So, it’s hard to know if that was a big factor, especially for such a small number.”

While the vast majority of Yakima-area educators are now vaccinated, it remains to be seen if that will reduce the rate of COVID cases among school staff and students.

“I sure hope so,” Fitterer said. “It’s going to be timed with the transmission rates coming down as well. So many variables are happening, but I can tell you that we all prioritize the health and safety of our employees.”

There have been more than 1,000 COVID cases among students and school staff since the start of the academic year, according to data from the Yakima County Health District. In a vast majority of those cases, transmission occurs outside of school, according to the Yakima Health District.

While some school staff may qualify for COVID-19 booster shots under the guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they are not required to get them. Officials from most districts said they are not tracking whether employees receive booster shots.

The state’s vaccine mandate applied to all staff at public school districts, as well as employees at institutions of higher education that receive state funding, as well as workers at charter and private schools. Districts must submit finalized vaccine and exemption information to the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction by Monday.

Officials from the Highland, Mt. Adams and Naches Valley school districts did not respond to requests for vaccine data by deadline. Officials from La Salle High School and St. Joseph Marquette Catholic School also did not respond.

The numbers:

East Valley School District: All school district staff members’ vaccination statuses were accounted for as of Oct. 15, according to a letter from Superintendent Russ Hill sent to district families and shared with the Herald-Republic. About 82% of staff members were fully vaccinated and 18% received religious or medical exemptions.

Grandview School District: As of the deadline, 82% of school district staff were fully vaccinated and 18% received either a religious or medical exemption, district communications manager Elena Olmstead said in an email.

Two staff members had not yet been vaccinated or received an exemption. One was on leave as of Wednesday and the other left the district permanently, Olmstead said.

Unvaccinated staff members must wear K95 masks provided by the district, undergo weekly COVID testing and maintain 6 feet of distance from other people when possible, Olmstead said. Their travel for work is also restricted.

Granger School District: As of the deadline, 88% of school district employees were vaccinated, while 10% received religious exemptions and 2% received medical exemptions, Superintendent Brian Hart wrote in an email. All employees’ vaccination statuses were accounted for by the deadline.

Unvaccinated employees must complete a daily health attestation, undergo weekly COVID testing, maintain social distance, keep a mask on and not eat around others, Hart said.

Mabton School District: As of the deadline, 80.7% of regular school district employees were fully vaccinated, Superintendent Joseph Castilleja said in an email. The remaining 19.3% received a religious or medical exemption. All staff vaccination statuses were accounted for by the deadline.

Accommodations for unvaccinated employees vary based on individual situations but can include a daily health attestation, weekly COVID tests, wearing an N95 or KN95 mask and eating meals alone, Castilleja said.

Selah School District: The school district had all employees’ vaccination statuses accounted for by the deadline, Superintendent Shane Backlund said in an email. Fully vaccinated staff made up 87.2% of the district’s workforce, while about 11.3% received religious exemptions and 1.5% received medical exemptions.

One district employee left their position due to the mandate, Backlund said.

Sunnyside School District: In Sunnyside, 88% of staff were fully vaccinated and 12% received medical or religious exemptions. No employees chose to leave the district because of the vaccine mandate, Communications Director Jessica Morgan said in an email.

Unvaccinated staff are required to be tested weekly or do a daily health attestation, wear medical, KN95 or N95 masks, maintain 6 feet of social distance and wash their hands frequently.

Toppenish School District: All school district employees’ vaccination statuses were accounted for as of Monday, Assistant Superintendent Shawn Myers said in an email. Fully vaccinated staff made up 87.7% of the district’s workforce, while 11.2% of employees received a religious exemption and 1.1% received a medical exemption.

Two district employees left their positions due to the vaccine mandate, Myers said.

Generally, unvaccinated employees are expected to wear KN95 masks indoors, undergo weekly COVID testing, engage in regular hand washing and eat alone. Myers said there are some variations to the accommodations, based on employees’ specific situations.

Union Gap School District: As of the deadline, 84% of the school district’s regular employees were fully vaccinated and 16% received religious or medical exemptions, Superintendent Lisa Gredvig said in an email. All employees’ vaccination statuses are accounted for.

Unvaccinated employees must complete a daily health attestation, bi-weekly COVID testing and may not eat around others, Gredvig said.

Wapato School District: As of the deadline, 87% of school district employees were fully vaccinated, while 11% received religious exemptions and 1% received medical exemptions, district spokesperson Mike Balmelli said in an email.

Two employees’ vaccination statuses remained unknown as of Thursday. Those employees had gone on leave prior to the announcement of the mandate, Balmelli said.

Accommodations for unvaccinated employees depend on each person’s individual situations, Balmelli said. Possible accommodations include a daily health attestation, wearing a face mask at all times while around others at work, eating alone, maintaining social distance and engaging in frequent hand washing or sanitizing.

West Valley School District: As of Tuesday, about 81.5% of school district staff members were vaccinated, Superintendent Peter Finch said in an email. About 16.8% received religious exemptions and about 1.4% received medical exemptions.

Two staff members on leave had not submitted their vaccination information as of Oct. 19, Finch said.

Accommodations are on a case-by-case basis, Finch said, though guidelines from the Yakima Health District are considered. Those guidelines include having unvaccinated employees double mask or wear K95 masks and eat by themselves.

Yakima School District: About 87% of employees in the county’s largest school district were fully vaccinated and about 13% received exemptions as of Tuesday, district spokesperson Kirsten Fitterer said in an email.

As of Tuesday, the district did not have any additional rules in place for unvaccinated employees, Fitterer said in an email. All employees and visitors, regardless of vaccination status, must wear face coverings while on campus, keep socially distant when possible and maximize distance during meal times.

Zillah School District: All school district employees’ vaccination statuses were accounted for as of Oct. 18, Superintendent Doug Burge wrote in an email. Fully vaccinated employees make up 78.1% of its workforce, while 1.2% received a medical exemption and 19.4% received a religious exemption.

Unvaccinated employees must submit to testing at any time at the request of the district and may not eat around others, Burge said. They must also keep face coverings on while indoors on campus.

Educational Service District 105: Educational Service District 105 is an agency that supports 25 public school districts and other state-approved schools in South Central Washington. As of the deadline, 88.5% of regular ESD 105 staff were fully vaccinated, spokesperson Brittany Kaple said in an email. The remaining 11.5% received religious or medical exemptions.

All employee vaccination statuses were accounted for by the deadline, Kaple said. One employee resigned prior to the deadline.

Unvaccinated employees must wear KN95 masks when working and eat meals at their desks. ESD 105 is also working on testing protocol for these employees, Kaple said.

Yakima Valley College: As a public institute of higher learning, Yakima Valley College employees were included in the vaccine mandate. As of Tuesday, 87.8% of YVC employees were fully vaccinated, spokesperson Dustin Wunderlich said in an email. Additionally, 10.8% received religious exemptions and 1.4% received medical exemptions.

One employee left employment and another didn’t provide information by the deadline, Wunderlich said.

All employees, regardless of vaccination status, must wear masks while around others, maintain social distance and complete a health screening before and after visiting campus, Wunderlich said.

The college encourages employees who are eligible to receive a booster shot to do so, Wunderlich said.

Contact Vanessa Ontiveros at vontiveros@yakimaherald.com.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.
Posting comments is now limited to subscribers only. Become one today or log in using the link below. For additional information on commenting click here.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.