Today marks the deadline for Chicago Public Schools employees to provide proof of vaccination. Employees who failed to do so would be banned from working until they received the vaccination or a medical or religious exemption.
The mandate, issued on August 25 by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, required all City of Chicago employees to be fully vaccinated by October 15. Lightfoot’s announcement was immediately met with resistance from several unions.
Lightfoot has since softened her position on the mandate. The Mayor announced Wednesday that city employees could opt for weekly testing instead. In addition, city workers now have until December 31 to provide proof of vaccination. After that, they can opt for weekly COVID-19 tests until they receive the vaccine.
That same grace, however, was not initially given to CPS employees. Instead, the Mayor stated that Chicago Public Schools employees had until October 18 to provide proof of vaccination or be placed on unpaid leave.
After Lightfoot’s announcement on Wednesday, the presidents of the Chicago Teachers Union, SEIU Local 73, and SEIU Local 1 sent a letter to Lightfoot calling out the differentiated treatment.
“Now, as the deadline for CPS and City employees to be vaccinated approaches, you have responded by modifying vaccine requirements for City workers, allowing those currently unvaccinated to opt for testing instead through December while those workers line up shots. In contrast, you are insisting that the comparatively much smaller percentage of unvaccinated CPS employees will be barred from work on October 18.”
Data from the district shows that 86% of CPS staff have provided proof of vaccination. The letter went on to say that “CPS seems intent on barring from work Black and Brown workers who confront very different challenges in meeting vaccine mandates. These challenges include concerns about the historic harm that medical mistreatment has caused communities of color, to lack of access to shots and reliable information about the vaccine and how to get it.”
The union presidents urged Lightfoot to work with them on vaccine education and community outreach. After receipt of the letter, Lightfoot eased her restrictions on CPS employees. Employees will only face disciplinary action if they do not provide proof of vaccination or submit to testing.
As of now, CPS employees do not have a vaccination deadline. However, Pedro Martinez, CPS Chief Education Officer, would like to see full vaccination by year-end.
Paula J. Shelton is a freelance writer and journalist. Find her on social @beboldshineon.