Elmhurst School District 205 plans to saliva test students; some parents question if it's legal

Friday, February 26, 2021
Parents question Elmhurst schools' saliva testing plan
Elmhurst School District 205 plans to conduct saliva tests on students opting for in-person learning, but some parents are questioning whether that's legal.

ELMHURST, Ill. (WLS) -- Controversy is bubbling up in the western suburbs over a school district's plan to conduct saliva tests on students opting for in-person learning.

Some parents in District 205 have joined together, saying their kids should not have to do the tests to go back to class.

"Why would we require the children to go through saliva testing?" Elmhurst parent Erin Stratton said.

Starting next Friday, all 6th through 12th graders in Elmhurst District 205 who will be attending class or extracurricular activities in person must opt in to a saliva testing program, according to the school district website.

"My junior has depression and anxiety as it is, and doing this to her is also making it harder for her to go to school," parent Michelle Morris said.

"There certainly isn't a necessarily a health risk to swabbing your child, but, I thought I was the parent," Stratton said.

Parents pointed to a CDC webpage that calls mandatory testing "unethical and illegal."

"The CDC doesn't give a basis for saying it's unethical and illegal and they're probably wrong," ABC7 Legal Anaylst Gil Soffer said.

While COVID-19 related cases are still relatively new, Soffer said history would favor the schools.

"When the public health is at stake, generally speaking, the law will permit vaccines and it will permit testing," he explained. "There can be arguments to the contrary, but I think that the schools have the better argument here."

In a statement Thursday, District 205 said, in part, its "first priority is the health and safety of our students, staff and community....we are committed to supporting our parents with information to answer any concerns."

Stratton said she doesn't know yet what she will do next week, but Morris plans to let her daughter be tested.

"She would like to be in person and she would like to take part in these activities. So I have no other remedy," Morris said.

The Illinois State Board of Education said it doesn't know of any law giving school districts authority to mandate testing, but the state board doesn't say this would be illegal either.

Full statement from Elmhurst District 205

Elmhurst Community Unit School District 205's first priority is the health and safety of our students, staff and community. Recently, the District announced plans to begin COVID-19 screening for students in grades 6-12 who desire to attend school and/or participate in extracurricular activities in-person. We understand that the screening process has sparked questions, and we are committed to supporting our parents with information to answer any concerns.

Full statement from Illinois State Board of Education

ISBE is working closely with the Illinois Department of Public Health and our other sister agencies on the issue of mandatory testing/vaccination for students. At this time, the specific statutory/regulatory language that we believe is necessary to compel such testing/vaccination does not exist. Stated another way, we do not know of any authority for a school district to mandate mandatory testing or vaccination for in-person attendance. Further, ISBE has broadly stated that a school must ensure its learning delivery (i.e. remote, blended, in-person) is equitable and available to all students.

We continue to work with the field more on these questions and will provide updated information on this to the extent there is movement on this from a federal standpoint or within the State.

We have also reached out to Elmhurst.