ISBE proposes new rule clarifying COVID-19 vaccine requirement

The Illinois State Board of Education is proposing a new rule to align with Gov. JB Pritzker's...
The Illinois State Board of Education is proposing a new rule to align with Gov. JB Pritzker's executive order requiring COVID-19 vaccines for school personnel.(Mike Miletich)
Published: Nov. 18, 2021 at 6:26 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - The Illinois State Board of Education hopes to approve a new rule that would further cement Gov. JB Pritzker’s executive order mandating that Illinois teachers, staff and school contractors be vaccinated against COVID-19 or go through weekly testing to be inside schools.

State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carmen Ayala said the rule could provide schools and districts more clarity on implementing the staff vaccine mandate from September. It could also implement any other executive orders that reissue or extend that vaccine requirement.

Board members voted Thursday afternoon to publish the proposed rule online to allow for public comment.

Under the proposal, teachers and other staff could still be exempt from getting the vaccine if they have a medical issue or strongly held religious beliefs. However, the proposed rule could allow schools to require unvaccinated staff to get tested twice per week if there is a COVID-19 outbreak. Schools could also bar staff from entering buildings if they have any COVID-19 symptoms.

“We have an obligation while the law, while the executive order, as a legal matter, is still in effect, to be able to ensure that it’s implemented with fidelity,” said ISBE Chair Darren Reisberg. “So there is a need at times to promulgate rules with some specificity in order to do that.”

This rule allows staff to enter or work at school if they’re waiting for COVID-19 test results and don’t have symptoms. The same proof of vaccination or test results could apply to contractors or other service providers as well.

The rule’s language also touches upon the required record-keeping of documents for school staff. For example, schools would have to identify staff members as fully vaccinated, unvaccinated or compliant with the testing requirement.

Not all ISBE board members were happy with proposal. ISBE member Roger Eddy, a former state lawmaker and head of the Illinois Association of School Boards, said the board shouldn’t use rule-making to overrule the subject of multiple court cases.

“I think that allowing the courts, as one of the three branches of government, to weigh in on this would be a far more prudent way to proceed at this time,” Eddy said.

No portion of the Illinois School Code prevents this type of action by ISBE members. But Eddy argues that’s not a good enough argument to make rule-making decisions.

The Robinson, Ill., resident said he understands the Pritzker administration may need help implementing the vaccine mandate. However, he feels ISBE is overreaching agency rule-making authority by moving forward with the proposal.

The proposed rule will be published in the Illinois Register and on the board’s website, so the public has a chance to see the language and provide feedback. It’s unknown when ISBE members might vote to put the plan in place.

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