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Vax to school special: CPS mandates COVID-19 vaccination for teachers, all other district employees

About 78% of CPS employees have already gotten a shot or scheduled one, and 67% are fully vaccinated, officials said.

Marzetta Rush, a special education teacher at Deneen School of Excellence, receives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Chicago Vocational Career Academy in the Stony Island Park neighborhood in March.
Marzetta Rush, a special education teacher at Deneen School of Excellence, receives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, administered by Winter Lawson, in a vaccination site at Chicago Vocational Career Academy in the Stony Island Park neighborhood in March.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

Teachers, staff members, vendors and all other Chicago Public Schools employees will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in the coming school year, CPS announced Friday.

Workers need to submit proof of full vaccination by Oct. 15, a month and a half after full-time, in-person classes resume Aug. 30. They’ll be required to be tested once a week until the fall deadline.

The vaccine mandate won’t apply to employees who have a medical reason or “sincerely held religious beliefs” for not receiving their shots. Those employees still have to submit to regular COVID-19 testing.

About 78% of CPS employees have gotten a shot or scheduled one, and 67% are fully vaccinated, officials said. That self-reported data “may not tell a complete picture,” though, according to CPS. The Chicago Teachers Union estimates between 80% and 90% of members have been vaccinated.

“This new policy enhances the district’s comprehensive reopening plan and ensures that students and staff can confidently learn in-person,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement. “Taking this step will further our citywide vaccination efforts and build on our progress in slowing and stopping the spread of COVID-19.”

The Delta variant of the coronavirus is driving the city’s latest resurgence, with average daily caseloads multiplying by 10 since the beginning of July and the citywide positivity rate at a three-month high.

“The science is clear: Higher populations of vaccinated people means better health outcomes in communities, safer places of work and public spaces,” interim CPS CEO José Torres said.

The CPS mandate was put in place a day after a similar order was issued for teachers across California. So far, Gov. J.B. Pritzker has left vaccine decisions up to local school districts, though a mask mandate is in effect for schools statewide.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot shown introduces former Elgin schools superintendent José Torres as the interim CEO for Chicago Public Schools in June.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot shown introduces former Elgin schools superintendent José Torres as the interim CEO for Chicago Public Schools in June.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

The Chicago Teachers Union supported the mandate but said the city “must do much more.”

“We urge the mayor’s CPS team to build on this safety standard by concretely addressing critical outstanding safety issues, and investing CPS’ and the City’s $4 billion in federal relief funds in what our students and families need to return to schools safely this fall, and for schools to remain open,” the union said in a statement.

CTU leaders have called on the district to adjust the metrics that would call for a return to remote learning and to expand school-based vaccination programs.

“It’s not our members that the city is having the most trouble getting vaccinated,” CTU deputy general counsel Thad Goodchild said during a virtual news conference. “It’s members of school communities and neighborhoods across the city who have good reasons not to trust local government.

Roosevelt High School teacher Jeff Lorenz receives a dose of the Moderna vaccine at the Albany Park neighborhood school in March.
Roosevelt High School teacher Jeff Lorenz receives a dose of the Moderna vaccine at the Albany Park neighborhood school in March.
Anthony Vázquez/Archivo Sun-Times

“But they do trust the teachers in their schools, and CPS and the city need to accept our help — our members’ help — in getting more Chicagoans vaccinated.”

About 69% of all eligible Chicagoans have gotten at least one shot so far, though vaccination rates are barely 40% and as low as 37% in some South and West side neighborhoods.

Kids as young as 12 are eligible to be vaccinated. Students are not required to be vaccinated for the upcoming school year.

“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 reopen schools,” Dr. Allison Arwady said.

Employees who don’t get vaccinated without an approved exemption by Oct. 15 “will be ineligible to work until they are fully vaccinated and provide confirmation of vaccination to CPS,” the district said.

Vaccines are free and readily available at most pharmacies. For help finding a shot through CPS, visit cps.edu/vaccinations.