Chicago Public Schools to require COVID-19 vaccine for all employees

Chicago Teachers Union said CPS' decision mirrors CTU's recent proposal for COVID vaccine mandate, but more can be done
CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago Public Schools announced Friday that all CPS employees will be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

On the Near West Side, reaction from CPS parents on the decision is mostly positive.

"It'll promote a safer environment for everyone," said CPS parent Tyrone Newell.

As the district prepares to welcome students back to school full-time in-person on Aug. 30, Chicago Public Schools announced it would require all Board of Education employees - which includes school-based teachers and staff, central office, regular vendors and network employees, and all other Board employees - to receive the COVID-19 vaccine unless they qualify for a medical or religious exemption.

"I think anything they can do that keeps the students in school five days a week this year is good," said Kelly Viscuso, another CPS parent.

"Our Chicago Public School communities deserve a safe and healthy environment that will allow our students to reach their greatest potential," Mayor Lori Lightfoot said. "This new policy enhances the district's comprehensive reopening plan and ensures that students and staff can confidently learn in-person. Taking this step will further our citywide vaccination efforts and build on our progress in slowing and stopping the spread of COVID-19."

Interim CPS CEO Dr. Jose M. Torres reiterated Lightfoot's comments.

"The science is clear: higher populations of vaccinated people means better health outcomes in communities, safer places of work and public spaces," Torres said. "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."

As part of the policy, all Board staff will need to submit proof of full vaccination by Oct. 15, 2021, unless they have an approved religious or medical exemption.

"The next thing and I think the thing that has the most teeth behind it is having a policy that requires staff members to be vaccinated," said Ann Pavichevich, principal of Roald Amundsen High School. "It is happening all over the country and I think it is the thing that is going to push us to safety farther and faster."

Employees who have not previously reported to the district that they are fully vaccinated must be tested once a week at a minimum until Oct. 15 or until proof of vaccination is submitted, CPS said.

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Testing will continue throughout the school year for staff with a documented exemption.

"I would be surprised if we have any pushback, I remember how my staff was hunting that vaccine when it became available," Pavichevich said.

According to available data, 78% of all CPS employees are fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated or had a vaccination scheduled as of June, while 67% reported being fully vaccinated, according to CPS.

Employees without an approved medical or religious exemption who are not fully vaccinated by Oct. 15 will be deemed ineligible to work and will not be paid until they are fully vaccinated and provide confirmation of vaccination to CPS.

"As I have said all along, the best way to protect yourself, your family, and your community from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated. The vaccine is safe, effective, and anyone 12 and older can get it for free in Chicago," Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said. "For the social and emotional well-being of our young people, they need to be in school, and the vaccine adds another layer of protection to our plan to safely re-open schools."

In response, the Chicago Teachers Union said CPS' decision mirrors CTU's recent proposal for a COVID vaccine mandate, but more can be done.

"We need adequate staffing in our classrooms. We need some metrics," said CTU President Jesse Sharkey. "Some guardrails about what would happen if the transmission rates continue to go up like they did last fall."

"We've been advocating for vaccines to be available since last winter," said CTU Vice President Stacy Davis-Gates. "We still have a situation where the district has not responded to our proposals about setting up these centers in schools."

CTU is asking the city and the district to use the schools' clinics to help roll out more vaccination clinics for students and families in the most vulnerable areas of the city.

"Among Black students in the city, only 12% are vaccinated," Sharkey added. "We are talking about communities that do not have good access to a vaccine."

After District 21 in Wheeling announced a similar vaccine requirement for teachers and staff there, could more districts in the suburbs follow suit?

"We're still not anywhere near the level of immunization in the community that we need, and so what's left is making it mandatory," said Prof. Craig Klugman, a bioethicist at DePaul University.

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