The District 153 school board approved a memorandum of understanding with the Homewood Education Association at a special board meeting Tuesday calling for all staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The district and teachers union had been in discussions over the summer months and reached agreement on mandatory vaccinations for HEA members. For those with medical and religious exemptions, COVID-19 testing will be required each week.
Superintendent Scott McAlister said the district reached its agreement just as Gov. J.B. Pritzker called for vaccines for everyone in public and private schools and universities. The announcement came Aug. 26 after Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccination received full approval from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The district reported earlier that about 85% of staff already had been vaccinated.
McAlister pointed out that the Illinois State Board of Education has said “vaccinations are the most important way to prevent transmission from COVID-19, followed by masks, followed by distancing. Those are the big three.”
In District 153, McAlister said, “It’s important to understand that the emphasis we’ve placed from day one: vaccinations specifically have proven to work. So, we were working with HEA leadership to come to an agreement on how can we provide mandatory vaccination for our staff. This is for safety.
“It was in that spirit that we sat down to create this document that allows us to assure that people are vaccinated who are working with our kids; to assure they’re vaccinated, and tested if not vaccinated.”
Shelly Marks, the District 153 school board president, said although the agreement only directly impacts teachers, the district will be putting into place a system of checking that all who come into James Hart, Churchill and Willow Schools have a record of vaccination or of being tested for COVID-19.
The requirement is “so every person coming into the school is providing that extra layer of protection. We’re hoping this one extra piece is to help us mitigate COVID,” Marks added.
The school board approved a second memorandum with its teachers extending a federal mandate for paid time for those who test positive for COVID-19 or quarantine because of contact with someone with the disease.
McAlister said the federal mandate has expired, but District 153 and HEA recognized the need to keep that benefit in place, however possible, because “obviously COVID hasn’t gone anywhere. We’re still dealing with the effects, still have people who have to quarantine.”
District 153 has a Sick Bank where employees can donate their unused sick days to share with other employees facing an illness. Days from the Sick Bank will help the district cover employees’ COVID-19 related days off without forcing staff to use their personal leave time.
Marks said this is “an agreement that works so that our staff can feel confident coming to work and feeling confident in what they need to do under some pretty extraordinary circumstances. I’m very, very proud of what’s been accomplished.”