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BY JIM MASTERS — EDUCATION REPORTER
LANSING, Ill. (August 26, 2021) — Teachers and staff members of Lansing schools will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or face weekly testing for the virus.
On Thursday, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker issued such an order for the entire state in an effort to slow the spread of the highly transmissible COVID-19 Delta variant. The ruling applies to all employees of pre-K-12 schools and extends to all workers and students at institutions of higher education as well as to healthcare and nursing home workers.
Following Cook County’s indoor mask mandate last week, Gov. Pritzker also ordered a statewide indoor mask mandate across the state regardless of vaccination status.
“The quick spread of this disease in Illinois and across the country is holding us all back from the post-pandemic life we so desperately want to embrace, and it’s harming the most vulnerable among us,” Pritzker said Thursday. “We are running out of time as our hospitals run out of beds. Vaccination remains our strongest tool to protect ourselves and our loved ones, to restore post-pandemic life to our communities, and most crucially, to maintain our healthcare system’s ability to care for anyone who walks through their doors in need of help — and Illinois is taking action to keep our communities safe.”
First dose by September 5
Workers who do not receive the vaccine or those who opt out for medical reasons or religious beliefs will be required to get tested for COVID-19 at least once a week, and possibly more, according to the governor’s office. School employees must receive the first dose of a two-dose vaccination series or a single-dose vaccination by September 5. Second vaccine doses must be received within 30 days of the first dose.
While the State of Illinois does not require face coverings outdoors, masks are strongly encouraged in crowded outdoor settings, such as festivals and concerts, as well as for activities that require close contact with people who are not vaccinated.
Impact on District 215
The governor’s vaccine mandate seemingly came as a surprise to local school officials on Thursday. TF South Principal Jacob Gourley said District 215 administrators will meet Friday to discuss a plan of action, noting that about 80% of TS South teachers and staff are vaccinated, many of whom took advantage of the vaccine clinic at the school from February through July.
“Having a vaccine site here at TF South for a number of months I think helped us a lot,” he said. “We administered well over 23,000 shots.”
Dr. Sophia Jones-Redmond, Superintendent of District 215, said the district will adhere to the governor’s vaccine mandate for school personnel and already has weekly, in-school COVID-19 testing in place for the 2021-22 school year for unvaccinated staff and students.
“Our Human Resources Department will be working with our staff to verify vaccination statuses, and we are grateful to report that a large percentage of our staff has already self-reported that they are vaccinated,” she said. “Our staff and students have been very cooperative and supportive of the governor’s mask mandate, and I anticipate a similar response to this newest directive.”
Jones-Redmond noted that District 215 has a pop-up COVID-19 vaccine site scheduled at TF North on September 15 from 2–6 p.m. in conjunction with the Illinois Department of Health.
District 158 responds to mandate
Dr. Nathan Schilling, Superintendent of Lansing School District 158, said he is consulting with the district’s legal counsel to implement the vaccine order.
“We want to make sure that we set up all of the human resources procedures correctly in terms of being as fair as possible to our staff while also adhering to this executive order,” he said. “So, we need to understand that if we’re going to require weekly testing for unvaccinated individuals, is that something that the district pays for or is the employee responsible. We don’t have any sort of guidance on that just yet.”
Schilling noted that about 70% of District 158 employees are vaccinated, but he’s unsure if there will be 100% compliance despite the governor’s mandate.
“I feel that at this point we’ve made a lot of vaccination information available to our staff and believe that those who wanted to get vaccinated have at this point,” he said. “The governor’s order may encourage others to vaccinate, or others may simply continue to take the stance and not get vaccinated. That is ultimately somebody’s choice, and we have respected that in this school district.”
Schilling said that he is hopeful that with more teachers and staff vaccinated that in-school masks mandates can be lifted or eased somewhat.
Sunnybrook 171 at 80% vaccination rate
Dr. Erika Millhouse-Pettis, Superintendent of Sunnybrook School District 171, said about 80% of the district’s staff are vaccinated, and that a plan of action in response the vaccine order is underway.
“I believe we’re in a good place, and we will work with those employees who have not, or choose not, to be vaccinated,” she said. “We will work collaboratively and collectively together for the safety of all.”
Millhouse-Pettis added that all District 171 students and employees are required to wear masks, and schools will have some available if someone forgets.
Eagle Academy Christian and Lansing Christian
Administrators at Eagle Academy Christian School said the the private pre-k—8th grade school had already put a vaccination mandate in place in June of this year.
Administration at Lansing Christian School declined to comment on the situation.
Illinois’ new public health requirements come as regions with low vaccination rates continue to see a surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations. In Illinois Region 5, located in the southern part of the state, low vaccination rates have produced a surge in hospitalizations, according to the governor’s office. Earlier this month, Illinois required people in all state-run facilities to be vaccinated.
“Unlike the wave of COVID-19 we saw earlier this spring, we’re now seeing our hospital resources stretched thin with some areas of Illinois reduced to only a handful of available ICU beds,” said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Director of the Illinois Department of Health. “The vast majority of hospitalizations, as well as cases and deaths, are among those who are unvaccinated. This has become a pandemic of the unvaccinated. We have safe, proven, and effective tools to turn the tide and end this pandemic. But until more people are vaccinated, masks are the order of the day and will help us slow the spread of the virus.”
More information about nearby vaccination clinics can be found at vaccines.gov.
- Weekly COVID-19 data, published August 20, 2021 (August 20, 2021)
- District 158 releases back-to-school COVID protocols (August 10, 2021)
- Masks now required for schools, long-term care facilities (August 7, 2021)