An Illinois appellate court on Wednesday sided with Chicago Public Schools in vacating a temporary restraining order that prevented the district from taking employment action against six CPS teachers for refusing to submit proof of vaccination or undergo weekly tests for COVID-19.
The ruling restores the district’s ability to enforce the requirement while a lawsuit challenging the practice continues in a downstate courtroom.
“We stress the weekly test defendant is requiring plaintiffs to take is noninvasive, nonharmful, self-administered, free to the teachers, available on school property, and can be taken during paid working hours,” Justice John W. Turner, of the 4th District Appellate Court in Springfield, wrote in a unanimous decision.
“While it may be questionable why only unvaccinated employees are required to take these weekly tests, the tests and the manner defendant makes the tests available to its employees do not appear unreasonable,” the judge wrote.
CPS did not immediately provide comment Thursday morning. Downstate attorney Tom DeVore, who represents the teachers, declined to comment.
Sangamon County Circuit Judge Raylene Grischow granted the temporary restraining order against CPS on April 8.
Grischow entered a similar temporary restraining order in February as part of a challenge to Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s school COVID-19 policies such as universal masking, quarantining for unvaccinated close contacts of an infected person, and testing for unvaccinated staff members.
Pritzker appealed the decision, which the appellate court dismissed as moot because school COVID-19 rules from the Illinois Department of Public Health had been allowed to expire. The Illinois Supreme Court declined to hear the case, vacating that temporary restraining order, and Pritzker dropped the statewide masking requirement the same day.
CPS later dropped its mask mandate, but maintained its vaccine and testing requirements for employees.
DeVore sought a new temporary restraining order last month after two of his clients were told by CPS to submit proof of vaccination, test for COVID-19 or risk being placed on a nondisciplinary administrative leave of absence without pay. The other four teachers had continued to test weekly, DeVore said. He argued the employees were not provided their right of due process of law.
The district announced an employee vaccine mandate in August, with exceptions for staff members who qualified for religious or medical exemptions. CPS backed off its mandate in October, saying unvaccinated staff members could keep their jobs as long as they tested weekly for the virus.
CPS says 9% of its staff — about 4,400 employees — are required to test.
The district paused its in-school COVID-19 testing program last week because of spring break. Thirty-four adults tested positive for the virus Monday and Tuesday through the free program. It’s unclear how many of those staff members are unvaccinated because CPS doesn’t provide that information. The testing program is available to vaccinated staff members as well as students.
After CPS dropped its mask mandate last month under legal pressure from DeVore, the district has experienced an uptick in cases. Health and school leaders have said it’s nothing to be concerned about.