Video: Gov. J.B. Pritzker used his rarely touched veto pen on a measure granting paid leave to all teachers affected by COVID. Produced by Amanda Vinicky.
Under a new statewide compromise, public school and higher education employees across Illinois won’t have to expend their sick time if they are forced to miss work due to COVID-19 — as long as they’re fully vaccinated.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Monday announced an agreement between his office, the Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers that will grant paid administrative leave to public school and higher ed employees who are forced to quarantine or isolate due to COVID-19.
But that benefit only extends to those who have gotten the vaccine.
“Vaccines are a vital tool in preventing the deadly effects of COVID-19, and those who take the steps to be fully vaccinated against this virus are doing their part to keep everyone safe,” Pritzker said in a statement. “They deserve to be able to take the time they need to respond to the ongoing devastating impacts the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have on them and their families.”
As part of the agreement, every employee of a public school district, public university and public community college who has gotten their vaccine doses — meaning either two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine —would be granted paid administrative leave if they or their child is forced to isolate from school either due to a positive test or because of a close contact with someone who was positive for COVID-19.
Those same employees would also see their used sick time retroactively restored if they were already forced to isolate or quarantine from their schools, colleges or universities. Employees who have been granted a medical or religious exemption from vaccination by their employer are also eligible for these benefits.
The compromise comes in response to a bill the IEA was pushing that would have granted that administrative leave to all public school and higher ed employees, regardless of vaccination status.
The group said teachers were exhausting their sick time on COVID-19 quarantines while their school districts were refusing to negotiate administrative leave or let employees stay home if their children tested positive.
In announcing the deal, Pritzker said he would be vetoing that bill.
“We want people to stay home when they’re sick, to be able to care for their children when their children need them the most, and to be paid when the circumstances that close their buildings are completely beyond their control,” IEA President Kathi Griffin said in a statement. “This bill protects school and university employees and all those they teach, drive to and from school, feed and care for in so many ways. Health care professionals and scientists have given us a path out of this pandemic and we should follow it.”
The Chicago Teachers Union lauded the agreement Monday, saying Pritzker “clearly understands the value of cooperating with workers, and we hope (Chicago Public Schools) follows his lead.”
“We also know that sick days for staff are only one component of safety during the biggest disruption to public education since WW2,” the union said in a statement. “We also need continued improvements in contact tracing, testing, ventilation, onsite vaccination, and other mitigation efforts to protect everyone in our school communities.”