By GREG BISHOP
THE CENTER SQUARE STAFF REPORTER
(The Center Square) — Education professionals from across Illinois are being put on unpaid leave or fired for not complying with Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. And their unions have been of no help.
It’s not known how many teachers or other education professionals have been put on unpaid leave or fired for not complying with the governor’s mandates.
“Schools are not required to report this information to the State,” a spokesperson for ISBE said in an email.
But they are required to track the information.
“All schools must maintain locally a record for school personnel employed by the school or school district that identifies them as one of the following: fully vaccinated; unvaccinated and compliant with the testing requirements; or excluded from school premises,” the spokesperson said. “All schools must also maintain locally, as applicable, the following documentation for each school personnel employed by the school or school district: 1) Proof of vaccination against COVID-19. 2) The results of COVID-19 tests.”
Springfield music teacher Kingsley Keys, who was fired earlier this month for not complying, is wondering how this was allowed without collective bargaining.
“They’re forcing us into medical procedures and they’ve changed the time, the frequency, the location, where on your body, how many times,” Mr. Keys said.
In Kankakee County, Limestone Middle School orchestra teacher Rebecca Harms got no help from her union for refusing the mandates.
“The union had replied almost immediately that the union will not back us and that I will get fired,” Ms. Harms told The Center Square.
Ms. Harms has been on unpaid leave since Sept. 27 and has been unable to pay bills since.
The Illinois Education Association didn’t return messages asking why such issues are not going through the collective bargaining process.
Britta Zucco, a kindergarten teacher at Meridian District 15, has been on unpaid leave since Oct. 11 for refusing to show vaccine proof or take part in weekly testing.
“Being required to undergo this medical procedure to be able to walk into my work just really goes against my beliefs, personally,” Ms. Zucco said in an interview.
She said her local union was of no help.
Brenda Pearson, a reading teacher at East Aurora’s school district, has been on unpaid leave since Sept. 21. She had an exemption from the vaccine for religious purposes, but was told she’d still have to test. She refused.
“Americans need to stand up for their freedoms and if they don’t do that it’s going to continue to get worse so we have to collectively come together and say ‘no more,’ ” Ms. Pearson told Illinois Radio Network. “We’re not going to allow the government to push us around and force us to do things we don’t want to do.”
The Illinois State Board of Education said they will investigate all complaints of noncompliance.
“Any school or school district that is not complying is jeopardizing the health and safety of its students and educators and risks state recognition,” an ISBE spokesperson said in an email.
Greg Bishop covers Illinois government and other issues for The Center Square.