Chicago Public Schools employees who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Friday’s deadline will still be able to work Monday, but they will have to undergo weekly testing at their schools, the district’s CEO said Wednesday.
“Employees will not be barred from coming (to) work (the) Monday after the Oct. 15 deadline. What we’re going to be doing is just working with them. They will have to get tested, and we’ll have COVID testing at their schools, so that will be convenient for them,” new CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said at a news conference.
“And then we’re going to just work with them to see where they’re at in the vaccination process, what hesitation they might have, what information we can give them. I feel fairly confident, just based on how high our (vaccination) percentage is, that it’s not going to be a big issue in our district.”
Martinez said more than 85% of CPS staff are vaccinated, and employees are submitting proof of vaccination every day.
Martinez’s comments came shortly after Chicago Teachers Union and Service Employees International Union leaders wrote a letter to Mayor Lori Lightfoot warning against “punitive enforcement of the vaccination policy.” When it announced its vaccine mandate in August, CPS said employees who did not get vaccinated or receive an exemption for medical or religious reasons by Friday’s deadline would be “ineligible to work” until they provided proof of full vaccination.
In an email to CPS employees Wednesday, the district said employees and vendors who do not report proof of full vaccination to the district by Friday must consent to weekly testing. Staff members who have not provided proof of being fully vaccinated or have not signed up for testing will be ineligible to work for CPS until they are in compliance, per the email. Employees ineligible to work will not be paid, the district said. Failing to provide proof of full vaccination or failing to submit to testing will subject employees to discipline, “up to and including termination.”
The city is also requiring its workers to report their vaccination status by Friday. Unvaccinated workers will be required to get tested twice a week for COVID-19 on their time and at their own expense, the city said. City workers must be fully vaccinated by the end of the year unless they receive an exemption, Lightfoot said. The head of the local police union has urged members to defy the mandate and not report their status by Friday’s deadline.
Martinez didn’t set a deadline for CPS employees to be vaccinated, but said it’s his goal for vaccinations to happen before the winter holidays. He anticipates a CPS vaccination campaign when children 5 to 11 years old become eligible.
“If I had to set a goal, it would be to help any of our staff or partners to be vaccinated by the end of the calendar year. And the reason I say that is because I’m hoping that we can get access to all of our 5- to 11-year-olds to also get vaccinated before the holidays,” Martinez said. “There’s just more risk when the holidays come.”
CPS said it does not know the vaccination status of nearly 10% of its staff, while 3.5% have received a religious exemption and 0.6% have been issued a medical exemption, according to online district data from Wednesday.
The teachers union said nearly 90% of its members and thousands of members of SEIU Local 73, which represents custodians, bus aides, special education assistants and other CPS employees, have been vaccinated.
“We want every one of our members who can safely be vaccinated, to get vaccinated. But surely you are aware that our schools confront desperate shortages of staff, from janitors and bus aides, to substitute teachers and school nurses,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey, SEIU Local 73 President Dian Palmer and SEIU Local 1 President Tom Balanoff said in a Wednesday letter to Lightfoot.
“Punitive enforcement of the vaccination policy in its current form will be ineffectual and will further destabilize already understaffed schools. We cannot have mandates without engagement, and without resources. Surely, you are also aware of the reluctance to vaccination that exists in Black and brown communities, which is justified in the context of our nation’s history. We must educate and inform members of these communities, which are most in need of outreach, to dispel myths around the vaccine.”
CTU said it is holding vaccination events this week. The union continues to bargain with CPS over a fall safety agreement to include weekly COVID-19 testing; contact tracing within 48 hours of a report of a positive case; weekly vaccination programs within at least 100 schools; more nurses, social workers and substitute teachers; and school and district case metrics for transitioning from in-person learning to remote instruction.
CPS is reporting about 1,400 student COVID-19 cases and nearly 400 adult cases since the start of school, according to data posted Tuesday. CPS has not released its enrollment numbers for the year, but last year the district had about 341,000 students.
About 5,200 students and 210 adults were in quarantine or isolation as of Wednesday evening because they tested positive for the virus or they were unvaccinated and came in contact with an infected person, per CPS data.
CPS said it has administered more than 45,000 coronavirus tests this school year through its voluntary weekly program. Testing did not occur at five schools last week, even though CPS set a goal of having testing available in all of its 500-plus district-run schools starting Sept. 1. Martinez said CPS hopes to soon administer 40,000 tests each week. More than 23,000 students are registered for the testing program.