Paid leave for fully vaccinated teachers heads to House floor
SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - Following an initiative launched by Gov. JB Pritzker in January, legislators moved forward with a bill that provides unlimited paid leave to school workers who take days off due to COVID-19.
Paid leave would be provided without running out an employee’s current number of sick days if the reason is related to the pandemic; this counts if the employee comes down with COVID-19, has a sick child to take care of, or if the school has to close due to an outbreak. The legislation also calls for reimbursing school staff for sick days they used during the 2021 - 2022 school due to the pandemic.
Similar legislation was vetoed by Pritzker earlier this year, because it did not include a vaccine requirement. Democratic sponsor Rep. Janet Yang Rohr said administrators she worked on the bill with expressed concern that there wasn’t a vaccine requirement.
However, Republican legislators Rep. Avery Bourne (Farmersville) and Rep. Keith Wheeler (Oswego) said in previous discussions with school administrators no such concerns were mentioned.
Several teachers’ unions are in favor of the legislation, including the Chicago Teachers Union, ASCFME Council 31, and the Illinois Education Association, among others. In opposition are the Chicago Public Schools and the Illinois Association of School Administrators among others.
If the legislation were passed and signed, school staff would have five weeks to get fully vaccinated to be eligible for the benefits. this includes school support staff, like janitors, maintenance workers, and others.
The committee discussed several aspects of the bill which are broken down below.
Representatives against the bill said the measures acts as a soft mandate for the vaccine, going so far as to say it acts as a “bribe” for individuals to get vaccinated.
“So far, the only mandates we’ve seen have come directly from the governor,” Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer (R - Jacksonville) said. He argued this was a chance for the legislature to reject vaccine mandates.
Yang Rohr said 90% of school staff would gain benefits from the legislation. She argues it’s an encouragement and incentive for getting vaccinated, rather than a mandate.
“The former covered those who were not vaccinated,” Yang Rohr said. “[Stakeholders] were concerned it would actually disincentivize the decision to vaccinate.”
Required exclusion from schools
In addition to providing paid leave for those affected by COVID-19, the language of the bill also mandates exclusion from school premises if school staff has a confirmed case of COVID-19, a probable case or confirmed exposure. Those opposed to the bill said that further puts unvaccinated school staff at a disadvantage.
“If you want to receive benefits, you are required to be vaccinated,” Davidsmeyer said. “Even though whether you’re vaccinated or not you can be mandated to be quarantined.”
Wheeler also expressed concern over false positives putting workers out of school. According to the language of the law, the exclusion from schools is only in effect so long as emergency orders from a disaster declaration are enacted.
Director of Governmental Relations for the Illinois Association of School Business Officials Emily Warnecke expressed concern that this legislation would end up costing school districts more.
She said if schools take days off, they often have to make them up at the end of the year. By paying teachers for the days missed and the days added on, she argues that would lead to higher costs for the district. Then, they pay those costs they might raise property taxes for residents.
Yang Rohr argued schools can avoid the extra cost of extra days at the end of the year by using e-learning. Warnecke said that is sometimes not possible for schools.
“I certainly respect the argument that districts have the ability to utilize e-learning, but there are many reasons why districts across the state have chosen not to do that because they don’t have the infrastructure in their communities, their boards have decided that’s not what they want.”
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