PORT ANGELES — With in-person Port Angeles School District classes set to begin in two weeks, longtime School Board Position 1 incumbent Sarah Methner and Lola Moses, her general election challenger, said Tuesday they oppose mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for students 12 and older.
Moses said that, as a lifelong Port Angeles resident, she has strong family ties to the area and children in Port Angeles School District schools.
“I want to be a voice for families and students,” Moses said.
“I feel like we have challenging times ahead.
“I’m passionate about making it the best school district possible and strengthening what we have but also being innovated and moving forward and offering different ways of learning for our students because I think they need options to be successful.”
Methner, the school board president, is seeking her fourth four-year term.
“I really do believe that experience matters, and I have 24 years of kids in the schools of Port Angeles School District,” she said.
“I know a lot of teachers, I know a lot of stuff, but I also find the school to be a place where I can be interested in what every student needs.”
The two appeared at a Port Angeles Business Association forum eight weeks before mail-in ballots go out Oct. 13 for the Nov. 2 general election.
Moses, 49 on Election Day, said two of her three children are eligible for the vaccine, and both chose on their own to get the shots, adding she and her husband are vaccinated.
“I do believe that people have their own choice to whether they want to vaccinate or not be vaccinated, but I see the value in both sides, I guess,” Moses said.
“I really think we need to make it safe for our kids to return to school, but I definitely want it to be my children’s choice.
“Everyone has the right to their own body.”
Methner, 51 on Election Day, has two college-age and two adult children, all of whom attended district schools.
“Do I believe in a mandate? That’s a personal question,” Methner said.
“Do I personally think that’s how we’re going to get back out of this? I do.”
She said there are mandates for many vaccinations for students, and the option to refuse to get them has been narrowed to a few exceptions.
Pressed by the questioner on the issue, “I would not vote for a mandate right now. I’ll just leave it at that,” Methner said.
“I also need people to understand that, with your choices, with your rights, have to come some responsibility.”
A COVID-19 breakout would result in “significant” lost class-time for unvaccinated students who come in contact with an infected classmate, Methner said.
She said she believes masks are an effective measure against the spread of the coronavirus that is backed up by science and that all students will be masked until the restriction is lifted by Gov. Jay Inslee.
Moses, a Lower Elwha Klallam tribal member, said staff masking is required at the tribe’s Early Head Start program, where she is the early education disabilities manager.
“I do believe in wearing a mask,” Moses said. “It is important for us to provide a safe environment for our youth.”
Port Angeles City Council candidate Jena Stamper got into a back-and-forth with the candidates, particularly Methner, asking them if they would treat a vaccinated student the same as a unvaccinated student if both contracted COVID-19.
Moses and Methner said they would not treat them differently.
Methner said if a child tests positive, unvaccinated students would be quarantined while vaccinated children would avoid the restriction.
“That’s the way the law is set up, and it is very clear that the vaccinated people are not the ones who are dying or who are ending up in the hospitals,” she said.
Vaccinated children can still transmit the disease and have coronavirus symptoms, Stamper said, asking why they would not be quarantined.
“Their likelihood to transmit the disease is not higher, Methner responded.
“Those vaccinated kids are protected. Those unvaccinated kids are not.
“These are the rules. This is the safest way we can get kids back in school. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. Perfect will be the end of COVID.”
Asked by Stamper if the district would be liable for children who become sick from having to be vaccinated under a mandate, both candidates said there would be no liability.
The candidates were asked what programs they would maintain or add to help students deal with conflict, including bullying.
Moses said she supports training for a wide array of school staff to help students handle conflict.
“Continued training is important,” she said.
Methner said the district has committed to the Social-Emotional Learning-CharacterStrong curriculum.
“It’s really aiming to teach children how to deal with issues in their lives, how to deal with each other, and this can become just so vitally important right now,” she said.
Methner said she recently visited school district middle and high schools and the hallways were alarmingly and sadly quiet.
“That’s a real, real problem that we’re going to have to help kids learn how to interact with each other again, help kids to feel safe again. These are real concrete problems that came out of this pandemic,” she said.
Reintroducing sports will help, and a “safe room” is set up at district elementary schools where children can retreat into rooms “that let them reset themselves,” Methner said.
There should continue to be alternative learning opportunities and “be innovative and being able to find what works with that student and that family, because it’s also the family that has to be committed,” Moses said.
“Not every family is parent and children. Some are raised by aunts, uncles,” she said.
“So families are so different, and I just think there’s always opportunity to offer new ways of learning.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].