Current and newly hired Chicago Public Schools teachers and staff could be required to let the district know if they’ve received a COVID-19 vaccination under a new policy proposed by officials Monday.
The new rule, which will be voted on by the city’s school board at its monthly meeting Wednesday, also would allow officials to mandate COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment. But CPS said it wouldn’t immediately use that authority if the policy is approved.
The proposal comes as thousands of elementary school teachers returned to their classrooms Monday for the first time in 11 months under a new agreement between the school system and the Chicago Teachers Union. The district and union are coming off a heated months-long fight over how and when to reopen schools, a period that appeared to reach deadlock several times and had families on edge about teacher lockouts or another potential strike.
In those negotiations, the union pushed for all members to receive inoculations before being required to return to schools. The district argued its mitigation protocols meant schools were safe for in-person work with or without vaccines — a stance President Joe Biden’s administration backed last week in guidance released after CPS and CTU struck a deal.
The end result of the protracted dispute was an expedited vaccination schedule for school workers that will see thousands receive shots as K-8 schools reopen in the next two weeks.
CPS “is authorized to require employees to show proof of receipt of COVID-19 vaccine which follows the [Food and] Drug Administration’s current authorized dosing schedules for COVID-19 vaccines,” the district’s proposed policy change reads.
It continues: “Consistent with all relevant laws, [CPS] may require as a condition of hire or continued employment that new hires and/or employees obtain a COVID-19 immunization that has been approved or authorized by the Food and Drug Administration.”
Workers could request “reasonable accommodations” for valid medical or religious reasons.
CPS spokesman James Gherardi said the district would require disclosure of vaccination status if the policy is approved. But for now CPS doesn’t plan to require vaccination as a condition of employment, he said.
If officials eventually proceed with the immunization requirement, CPS could become one of the first districts in the nation to do so. Many school systems until now have stayed away from vaccine mandates because of low supply, tense reopening negotiations with teachers unions and ambiguity about the legality of requiring a vaccine that has emergency FDA approval but not full approval like other shots required by school districts.
CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said in a statement that “CPS did not provide us any notice of this proposed change.” She said the union would review the policy and intends to negotiate any changes that affect members.
“It is lamentable, however, that after bringing the school district to the verge of a strike in large part over its months-long refusal to bargain over whether educators would be offered vaccines, Mayor Lightfoot would even consider making vaccination a requirement of employment without any input from us whatsoever,” Davis Gates said.