Pritzker School Employee Vaccination Mandate To Go Into Effect Oct. 5.

Image of a vaccination card

Image of a vaccination card

By Ella Lindemann, Features Editor

According to J. B. Pritzker‘s latest vaccination mandate, all employees at educational facilities in Illinois are required to be vaccinated or have an approved religious or medical reason not to be vaccinated by Oct 5. Since the mandate announcement on Aug. 26, District 219 employees have had to upload vaccination cards and review those filing for vaccination exemptions.

Currently, 93% of Niles West employees are vaccinated according to the Assistant superintendent for human resources, Thomas Kim. This includes teachers, support staff, and administrators. After a final group of employees finish uploading their vaccination cards, Kim estimates the overall vaccination rate will rise to about 95%.

This calculation does not include outsourced personnel, such as security guards, bus drivers, or food service staff.

“Our safety teams are not district employees so we don’t have statistics on them,” Director of Community Relations and Strategic Partnerships April Stallworth said.

Social studies teacher Matthew Wiemer believes Pritzker’s mandate is fair and will encourage everyone to get vaccinated. “[Vaccines] are safe. They’re effective and I believe in science not superstition,” Wiemer said.

To further encourage COVID safety in his classroom, Weimer has a “no mask under the nose” policy where 5% of a participation grade is deducted. By the end of the semester, this adds up to less than 1% of a student’s final grade, but it still gives students a reminder to wear their masks correctly.

“I have included this policy in my classes because the principal and the deans have given zero support to the teachers in enforcing the mask policy,” Wiemer said.

Teachers who are opposed to vaccination declined to comment for this story.

Any unvaccinated employees, (whether they have been approved for a medical/religious exemption or not), must get a weekly COVID test in order to continue working. “If anyone remains unvaccinated, they are required to test weekly and provide a negative test result” Kim said.

Unvaccinated employees can use the school provided COVID test called SHIELD testing, or they can get a PCR test at a different COVID testing facility. SHIELD testing will visit Niles West once a week, and results can be expected 24 hours after the test is taken.

According to a memorandum of understanding between the District 219 Board of Education and the NTFTSS union, if an unvaccinated employee has to quarantine, the days that they are not at work will be taken out of their own leave balance unless they are approved for telework (Zoom). Vaccinated employees who have to quarantine may do so without using personal sick days.