Saturday, September 18, 2021
58.0°F

Vaccinations ordered: Protesters gather to challenge mask, vaccine mandates

by CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE
Staff Writer | August 19, 2021 1:07 AM

MOSES LAKE — At a Wednesday mid-afternoon press conference, Gov. Jay Inslee announced all K-12 teachers, university instructors, and early learning teachers would need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 4 or risk losing their jobs.

While Inslee’s announced deadline is Oct. 18, because that date also includes two weeks for vaccinations to work, the last effective day to receive a jab is Oct. 4.

In addition, Inslee expanded the statewide indoor mask requirement “to all individuals, regardless of vaccination status,” starting Monday.

Less than an hour after the end of Inslee’s press conference, several dozen people, including teachers, health care workers, residents and local elected officials, gathered in front of the Moses Lake School District’s administrative offices at 1620 S. Pioneer Way to protest the governor’s actions.

“We don’t want masks on kids in classrooms,” said Larry Dagnon, a fifth-grade teacher at North Elementary School. “I taught last year with a mask the entire year, and the kids, it was really hard for them. I don’t want to see that happen again.”

The protest in Moses Lake was one of many in front of school district offices and county courthouses across the state beginning at 4 p.m. and coordinated by For the Kids Washington, a group of parents working to end the mask mandate in public schools, and Washingtonians for Change, a coalition of groups opposed to the teaching of critical race theory and comprehensive sex ed in the public schools.

Protesters held up signs decrying the governor’s actions, and motorists honked as they drove by. They were joined by Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, and Rep. Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake.

“We want to come out and support the folks that want to have the governor listen to them,” Warnick said.

While both legislators said they are vaccinated, they also believe getting an experimental vaccine — none of the COVID-19 shots have received anything more than emergency approval by the Food and Drug Administration — should be a matter of choice. They also said they have asked Inslee to show them what legal authority he actually has to fire people.

“He doesn’t have the legal authority, and he won’t show us the legal authority, so we don’t believe he has it,” Dent said.

During his press conference, Inslee said he was issuing the vaccination orders — which also apply to state employees and health care workers — to keep the state’s businesses and schools open as the delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus wreaks havoc across the state.

However, he said school districts will not have a choice, and anyone not vaccinated by Oct. 4 will face termination.

“Hopefully, this will only apply to a very small number of people,” Inslee said. “These are people who care about the public and like working with kids.”

The mandate to wear masks in public settings, however, kicks in on Monday, and will apply to most public places across the state, including restaurants, grocery stores, malls and public-facing offices, regardless of vaccination status, according to a release. There will be limited exceptions when face coverings won’t be required, such as office spaces not easily accessible to the public where individuals are vaccinated, and when working alone indoors or in a vehicle with no public face-to-face interaction. Small, private, indoor gatherings where all attendees are vaccinated are also exempt.

“This is legally binding, and business owners and employers will have to comply,” Inslee said. “It will be enforced. In full.”

“At least we got through fair,” Warnick said.

A group of district superintendents across central and eastern Washington, including Ephrata School District Chief Tim Payne, have sent Inslee a letter asking for metrics that will apply to local communities to say when local mask mandates can end.

“This will provide hope for our students and will give our communities a goal to rally around,” the superintendents wrote.

They also noted Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal, who also spoke at the Wednesday afternoon press conference, “has made it clear to us that if we do not follow these requirements our funding apportionment will be withheld, and further, that this is not a local decision in any way.”

Both Moses Lake School Board member Susan Freeman, who attended Wednesday’s protest, and Warnick said they do not believe Inslee has the legal authority to hold funding from a school district over the mask mandate.

“Near as I can tell, it’s not a law,” Freeman said.

School board candidate Paul Hill held a bright green sign that said, “No Mandated Masks/Vax.”

“I gotta be out here. It’s important. I am all for masks and vaccines, but they need not to be mandated,” he said. “We have to at least take a stand. Our kids deserve it.”