Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday that educators, school staff and licensed childcare workers of all ages have been added to the current tier of vaccine eligibility that includes those age 65 and up and those 50 and older who live in multigenerational households.
Inslee's announcement comes hours after President Joe Biden said he would be using the powers of the federal government to direct all states to prioritize vaccinating teachers, and that the federal government would provide the doses directly through its pharmacy program.
Inslee said that more details would be available soon from the state Department of Health, but that educators and licensed childcare workers can now start scheduling vaccinations with their providers.
“The good news is that schools will be able to open and we are pleased that teachers will be back in the classroom very soon," Inslee said in a written statement. “This should give educators more confidence to return to in-person learning and that it can be done with the safety protocols that are being used by 1,400 other schools in our state right now."
Some public school teachers have resisted returning to the classroom during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the governor's urging.
KIRO-TV reported that educators in Renton voted not to return to in-person teaching even though the school district said the union had already approved an agreement that said teachers would return on Wednesday.
The teacher’s union says the district failed to address the safety concerns from school nurses, special education teachers and staff considered to be high-risk.
Earlier, teachers in Seattle – the state’s largest district with more than 50,000 students – had balked at plans to return some students to classes early in March.
The Seattle public teachers’ union filed unfair labor practice complaints against the city school district over actions it took to try to return some students to classrooms. After getting authorization from the Seattle School Board last week, the district designated some 700 educators as “essential” to speed up the process of in-person instruction for special education students.
The move last week used a clause in the contract that gives the superintendent the right to determine essential staff who need to be on-site in buildings.
The union argued the action forces educators back into the classroom before the two parties were able to agree on coronavirus safety protocols.
Inslee last month urged more schools to open up to in-person instruction, saying the online classroom experience wasn’t adequate for many.
The Democratic governor said moving toward more in-person instruction is in line with the scientific consensus and the latest guidance from federal officials.
About 36 percent of the state's roughly 1 million public school students was receiving some level of in-person instruction as of the first week of March, according to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Biden said his goal is for every pre-kindergarten through 12th grade educator, school staff member and childcare worker to receive at least one shot by the end of March.
The head of the state teacher’s union praised Biden’s call to prioritize teachers for vaccination.
“For those locals still working with their districts to ensure the safest possible return to classrooms, this important layer of protection when offered in concert with CDC, the state Department of Health and Labor and Industries safety requirements, should help build trust and confidence for a return to in-person learning,” Washington Education Association President Larry Delany said in a statement.
In December, the state started vaccinating health care workers, high-risk first responders and people living or working in nursing homes. The current tier that includes 65 and older — and will now include teachers — started in January. Later tiers of the state’s vaccination schedule will include people 50 and older who work in congregate settings like agriculture or grocery stores, and those 16 or older with underlying medical conditions. Inslee said that he will soon be announcing further announcements to the state’s vaccinate prioritization schedule.