Illinois teachers push back on COVID-19 vax mandate

Illinois teachers push back on COVID-19 vax mandate

Illinois teachers currently face mandated COVID-19 testing if unvaccinated. The Illinois State Board of Education might remove that option depending on whether it follows Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s mandate or a high court decision.

Teachers’ choices to test rather than vaccinate are again being debated as the Illinois State Board of Education faces a U.S. Supreme Court ruling against most blanket vaccination mandates and Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s order that every Illinois school employee receive the COVID-19 shot.

The board’s monthly meeting drew dozens of teachers, union representatives and staff who commented about a potential vaccine mandate for Illinois educators. The debate was renewed by the high court ruling that blocked a vaccine mandate from the Biden administration, including for school districts in about half the states.

“I love my job, but unfortunately if I am mandated to get a vaccine I can’t do that anymore,” said Megan Cunningham, a kindergarten teacher who got her shots but had a bad reaction and doesn’t want the booster. “I worked during the pandemic and I love going to my babies every single day. I don’t want to choose between something that I love and getting a vaccine.”

A vaccination mandate is not needed when schools have done so much, including weekly COVID-19 tests in bilingual kindergarten teacher Lynn Johnson’s school in Joliet.

“Because of those things that we have done all throughout the school year so far, we feel like we’re just ready to get back to normal,” Johnson said. “We just want to go back to just teaching our kids and not worrying about other things.”

In August, Gov. J.B Pritzker issued an emergency executive order for teachers to either be vaccinated or undergo regular testing. The state school board is considering removing the testing option for educators. Pritzker’s emergency order is still being challenged in court by 22 school districts

The Chicago Teachers Union supports the proposal, as do the state’s two largest teachers’ unions. There is a 92% teacher vaccination rate in Chicago Public Schools.

“This has been very effective in keeping our staff safe during the global pandemic,” said Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat, superintendent of Peoria Public Schools.

Some teachers argued vaccine mandates can only come from a law approved by the state legislature, not from an ISBE rule.

After the hearing ended, a board spokesman said a recommendation will be made at the end of the month. Afterwards, it will be brought to the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules.

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