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B-N Teachers Unions Back COVID Vaccine Requirement For Educators

MCHD vaccination clinic sign
WGLT file photo
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WGLT
The McLean County Health Department has hosted COVID vaccination clinics at several schools.

Teachers union leaders in Bloomington-Normal say they support Gov. JB Pritzker's vaccine requirement for all teachers.

The governor made the announcement on Thursday, citing surges in COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths due to the highly contagious Delta variant and slowing vaccination rates. Pritzker also required the vaccine for health care workers and he reinstituted an indoor mask mandate for people over the age of 2, regardless of vaccination status, starting Monday.

Julie Riley is president of the Bloomington Education Association. The group represents District 87 teachers. Riley said she's not surprised the governor issued the requirement, now that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been fully approved by the FDA.

“It’s not that different from some of the other mandates that we have,” Riley explained. “The first that comes to mind is the tuberculosis testing requirement for employees and even a lot of volunteers in the public schools for many years.”

President of the Unit Five Education Association, Lindsey Dickinson, said that union also supports the vaccine requirement.

“We know widespread education and access to vaccines will be essential in this public health effort, and we are glad to see that a weekly testing option is available for those who cannot, or will not, get vaccinated,” Dickinson said in a statement. “We’re committed to working with Unit 5 to determine how we will implement the mandate locally, and what other safety policies and protocols we will have in place to ensure our members’ interests, health and safety are addressed as these policies are applied.”

Unit 5 superintendent Kristen Weikle said as of Thursday morning the district was still waiting to get more specifics from the state regarding the mandate.

“Once we have that information, we will work through the details with our representative groups,” Weikle said in a statement. “Please know, Unit 5 will follow the state mandate, but there is a lot to process for a district with more than 1,600 employees.”

Unit 5 and District 87 both estimate staff vaccination rates at 80%.

Riley said she believes vaccines are the best way to end the COVID pandemic, but she is prepared for some resistance.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some pushback because we have seen pushback from employees who are members of the general public who have had their own opinions about how a lot of COVID has been handled,” she said.

Teachers who are not vaccinated by Sept. 5 will have to submit to COVID testing at least once per week, under Pritzker's order.

The Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT) President Dan Montgomery and Illinois Education Association (IEA) President Kathi Griffin gave their support for the vaccine requirement through a joint statement:

“We are committed to helping our locals negotiate the terms and implementation of the vaccine mandate and other safety policies in school districts, colleges, and universities statewide. Collaborative discussions between our unions and employers are critically necessary to ensure that our members’ concerns are addressed and that they have a voice in how safety policies are applied,” said the statement.

The vaccine requirement also applies to college educators and students. Both Illinois State and Illinois Wesleyan universities already have vaccine requirements in place.

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