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Judge transfers lawsuit against Unit 5 school district to McLean County

A gavel sits on a judge's bench. On top of that photo, the words "WGLT Courts" appears.
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A lawsuit filed by six Unit 5 employees is being transferred to McLean County from Woodford County, a judge ruled on Thursday, in the first move in a dispute between the school district and staff over vaccine mandates.

Rachel Henderson, Ashley Defreese, Tracy Quattro, Laura Feely, Stacy Herren and Lisa Jones filed the lawsuit Oct. 28 in Woodford County, a county that includes less than 1% of the sprawling Normal-based district. The staff are employed at elementary schools in Unit 5.

Woodford County Judge Charles Feeney signed an order Thursday moving the lawsuit to McLean County, where Unit 5 has its administrative offices. No hearing date has been set.

The initial lawsuit naming Unit 5 was amended this week to include the Illinois Department of Public Health, the Illinois State Board of Education and Gov. JB Pritzker.

The staff members, five of whom are teachers, are seek a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction barring Unit 5 from enforcing its mandate the teachers receive a COVID-19 vaccination or be tested weekly. Those refusing to comply have been threatened with “progressive discipline,” a measure outside the terms of a letter of understanding between the district and the teachers union, according to the lawsuit.

The rules amount to a forced quarantine, the staff members allege, that violates their constitutional rights. The state’s Health Care Right of Conscience Act protects individuals from unwanted medical services, such as vaccines, Peoria lawyer Jason Jording argues in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit specifically identifies Quattro as a staff member who has allegedly “been suspended without pay for weeks, without so much as a hearing evidencing that Unit 5’s policy violates constitutional standards.”

In a statement, Unit 5 attorney Curt Richardson said the district is complying with the governor’s executive order and mandates from the State Board of Education for teachers to be excluded from work if they do not follow testing and vaccination rules.

Edith began her career as a reporter with The DeWitt County Observer, a weekly newspaper in Clinton. From 2007 to June 2019, Edith covered crime and legal issues for The Pantagraph, a daily newspaper in Bloomington, Illinois. She previously worked as a correspondent for The Pantagraph covering courts and local government issues in central Illinois.