Pritzker compromise grants teachers extra sick leave for COVID-19 — but only if they are vaccinated

The compromise was reached after the governor vetoed a bill supported negotiations with the Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker provides an update on Illinois’ coronavirus situation Saturday at the Thompson Center. 

Pritzer’s new initiative provides many of the same protections as the vetoed House Bill 2778.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Gov. J.B. Pritzker vetoed a bill Monday that would have required COVID-19 related paid leave for teachers and staff at public schools and universities in favor of a new agreement that makes clear employees need to be vaccinated in order to qualify.

The new initiative was reached in “a collaborative, cooperative process” with the Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers, Pritzker said.

The proposed new bill will keep students and teachers in classrooms without penalizing vaccinated teachers for using sick days to take COVID-19 precautions.

“Vaccines are a vital tool in preventing the deadly effects of Covid-19, and those who take the steps to be fully vaccinated against this virus are doing their part to keep everyone safe,” Pritzker wrote in a letter to state legislators. “They deserve to be able to take the time they need to respond to the ongoing devastating impacts the Covid-19 pandemic continues to have on them and their families.”

The initiative provides many of the same protections as the original House Bill 2778: Instead of forcing employees to use sick days when taking a required COVID-19 related day off, the compromise will allow fully vaccinated employees of public school districts, universities and community colleges to use paid administrative leave. This also applies to employees who have children who are required to stay home from school for the same reasons.

“We want people to stay home when they’re sick, to be able to care for their children when their children need them the most, and to be paid when the circumstances that close their buildings are completely beyond their control,” Kathi Griffin, president of the Illinois Education Association, said in a statement. “This bill protects school and university employees and all those they teach, drive to and from school, feed and care for in so many ways.”

The initiative also returns sick leave already used by vaccinated employees due to COVID-19, and it provides wage protections for all hourly school employees like janitors or bus drivers who are required to miss work during a school closure or e-learning day due to COVID-19.

The new proposal does not extend the administrative leave provisions to staff who submit weekly tests and forego the vaccine. Pritzker’s executive order issued last August on vaccinations for school employees had included a testing option for unvaccinated employees.

Pritzker said he will work with the legislature to see the compromise reached in a new bill.

Opponents of the original bill feared it would strain school districts already suffering from staffing shortages.Critics of the original bill could not be immediately reached for comment Monday.

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