Illinois COVID loophole for school employees

COVID and the Classroom

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – There appears to be a loophole in Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker’s new vaccine mandate for school employees.

The Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act (HCRCA) protects the right to refuse “any form of health care contrary to his or her conscience.”

A small number of unvaccinated school employees are now refusing COVID-19 tests under that law. Districts like Edwardsville are allowing those employees to keep working until there’s further guidance from the governor or the courts.

“I think that’s something definitely going to be tried in courts,” said Edwardsville School Superintendent Dr. Patrick Shelton. “They’re going to have to make the decision on whether the executive order or the (HCRCA) is going to be the superseding act that’s going to govern vaccinations and testing in public schools.”

Otherwise, compliance with the mandate was 100%, he said.

The district already has testing available Monday through Thursday with saliva tests expected next month through the state’s SHIELD testing program.

“That’s a game-changer for districts that can find an operations partner and put it in place,” Shelton said.

Dr. Brian Mentzer, superintendent of Belleville Township High Schools, said no employees in his district had claimed HCRCA exemption. Though he had given a handful of employees extra time to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test in week one of enforcing the mandate, he said his staff was 100% compliant as they’d been with every mandate during the pandemic.

“Folks were highly compliant when it came to wearing a mask or distance learning or ‘Hey, we need to be together on this so we can keep kids in school,’” Dr. Mentzer said.

There are a few districts that are having issues with it.

Madison County Regional Superintendent of Schools Rob Werden oversees the county’s 13 districts. He said testing and staff shortages were the biggest concern with the governor’s latest mandate.

“We’ve got a definite shortage of teachers. This year we’re facing an incredible shortage of bus drivers,” Werden said. “To force something like this, that’s going to shrink our ranks of school staff, if I did have (the governor’s) ear I’d ask for more time to implement this.”

FOX 2 reached out to Pritzker about how he planned to enforce the mandate but did not get a response as of early Wednesday evening.

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