Local News

D161 considering COVID-19 vaccine requirement for staff, though exemptions would remain

Flossmoor School District 161 is considering implementing a vaccine requirement for its unvaccinated staff members that would only allow for medical or religious exemptions.

“I would recommend it,” Superintendent Dana Smith said Monday, Sept. 13, when presenting the item for discussion during a special meeting of the board of education.

Smith said there are a number of risks associated with not implementing a vaccine requirement for staff. A big question is whether District 161 could handle an outbreak among teachers because there is a substitute shortage at the moment. He also noted the medical costs of COVID-19 care could increase insurance rates, which ultimately has a budget impact.

“When you really take a look at the risks to the district and the community, it’s far beyond a simple: Will somebody quit versus will they not quit?” Smith said. “When we start talking about the risks, they really go beyond these little pieces. Certainly, exemptions are appropriate.”

Smith noted that 86-87 percent of the district’s teachers already are vaccinated at this point, and those numbers keep improving. Staff members who are unvaccinated currently are allowed to remain so, regardless of whether they have an exemption on file, but must provide two negative COVID-19 tests per week, following Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s vaccine mandate for schools in Illinois. Administrators are working on locking in a testing process for unvaccinated staff members, Smith added.

Board Vice President Cameron Nelson noted the district’s mission is education, and unvaccinated staff without exemptions could create an additional burden on staff and expose students to risk. But he added that he does not want to see anyone quit over the potential requirement and encouraged staff to reach out to the board if they have concerns.

“I’m not excited about it, but I would lean toward supporting it,” Nelson said.

Memorandum of Understanding gives staff paid leave for quarantine
The school board voted 4-1 to approve a memorandum of understanding that will grant additional paid leave to Flossmoor Education Association staff members who have to quarantine because of positive COVID-19 tests.

The agreement gives leave of up to 10 working days to vaccinated or unvaccinated employees with district-approved exemptions in addition to their usual sick leave. Unvaccinated employees without a district-approved exemption are granted seven additional working days of leave only after using three of their core sick leave days.

“I do think objectively that’s on the generous side,” Nelson said.

Smith said the focus right now is on supporting teachers during unusual circumstances. He added that the FEA is on board with this agreement.

“There’s a clear understanding that this is not typical but certainly appreciated,” Smith said.

Board Secretary Christina Vlietstra cast the sole dissenting vote and explained why following the meeting.

“I think it’s unfair,” she said. “It seemed discriminatory toward our staff who are exercising their personal right.”

Board President Carolyn Griggs and member Misha Blackman were absent.

Community Calendar

News by email

Subscribe to The Latest (daily headlines email)

* indicates required

View previous campaigns.

Free weekly newsletter

Subscribe to The Weeks (weekly newsletter)

* indicates required

Recent video: Progress on police reform, part 2