Chicago Public Schools announced Friday that all staff will be required to submit proof of full vaccination by Oct. 15, making it the first city agency to require the shot.
CPS appears to be one of the only Illinois school districts to impose a mandate. Wheeling-based School District 21, an elementary district that covers several northwestern suburbs, approved a vaccine requirement for staff in late July. But spokeswomen for the state’s two teachers union said they were unaware of any other districts in Illinois to impose a similar mandate.
Other big-city school districts, including in New York City and Washington, already announced that staff will need to be vaccinated or get tested for COVID-19 weekly. California this week became the first state to require all teachers and staff in K-12 public and private schools to get vaccinated or undergo weekly testing
Chicago Public Schools takes it a step further. It says if a staff member refuses to be vaccinated and doesn’t have a religious or medical exemption, they will be ineligible to work until they prove they are vaccinated. The requirement applies to all board of education employees, which includes school-based teachers and staff, all employees in the central and network offices and all regular vendors.
The Chicago Teachers Union supports a mandate. It sent a proposal for a vaccine requirement to the school district earlier this week as part of negotiations for a school reopening agreement. The union wanted to include medical and religious exemptions, which CPS’ policy does. In a statement Friday, the union claimed CPS’ mandate was in response to their proposal and called on CPS to do more to keep schools safe, including creating a “robust” vaccination program at the schools and investing more federal COVID-19 relief dollars to support students impacted by the pandemic.
As of June, nearly 80% of CPS staff told the school district that they were either fully vaccinated or had received one dose.
Nationally, a push for vaccine mandates in schools is growing. On Thursday, the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, came out in favor of staff vaccination requirements as long as there are exemptions and weekly testing is an alternative. The nation’s other major teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers, isn’t endorsing vaccine mandates but on Wednesday passed a resolution saying workers should negotiate potential mandates with their employers. Both unions are encouraging vaccinations and say 80 to 90% of members are inoculated.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona this week said we supports vaccination mandates for school staff made at the state and local level.
Interim CPS CEO Jose Torres said in a statement that a vaccine mandate was an important move to protect students and staff. Torres is set on making sure that school is in-person five days a week this year with as few disruptions as possible.
“This is the right move for the greater good of our school communities and will help ensure we have a successful and healthy school year starting on Monday, August 30,” Torres said in a statement.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot also lauded the move.
“This new policy enhances the district’s comprehensive reopening plan and ensures that students and staff can confidently learn in-person,” she said. “Taking this step will further our citywide vaccination efforts and build on our progress in slowing and stopping the spread of COVID-19.”
Staff not fully vaccinated with exemptions will be tested regularly for COVID-19, according to the school district.
The school district and union are still in the process of hammering out a reopening agreement. Some of the remaining areas of disagreement are over whether all students and staff should quarantine after exposure to a COVID-19 case, which is what the union wants. However, CPS says those who are vaccinated should not be required to quarantine.