Chicago Public Schools officials still support a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for students but say that first action needs to be taken at the state level, which hasn’t been done.
Pedro Martinez, the CPS chief executive officer, backed mandatory coronavirus shots last year, pushing federal and state officials on the issue.
Martinez and Chicago Board of Education members have said they don’t believe CPS has the authority to establish a COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
Illinois now requires K-12 students to provide proof of vaccination against a dozen diseases, including diphtheria, tetanus, polio, measles, rubella and mumps. Exemptions are allowed only for medical or religious reasons. Federal law doesn’t require students who are homelesss to submit proof of shots.
“CEO Martinez has indicated support of a COVID-19 mandate, but there are no active legislative or executive initiatives to require the vaccine for all K-12 students in Illinois,” a CPS spokeswoman said. “Only the Illinois Department of Public Health can require vaccines for students.”
A spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Education wouldn’t say whether state officials are considering a vaccine mandate for K-12 students, pointing only to the most recent public health guidance, which mandates COVID shots only for school staff members but not students.
Over the past year, officials have indicated that mandates might have to wait until COVID shots move from the current approved emergency use to full authorization for children. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted that approval for the Pfizer vaccine last month for kids 12 to 15 years old. Shots for those 16 and older already had been fully approved.
CPS sent parents details on its virus-preparedness earlier this month, saying, “Unfortunately, this virus is still with us and will be with us for the foreseeable future.”
“The good news is that much progress has been made with regard to COVID-19,” Martinez wrote in an email to students’ families. “As more Chicagoans have gotten vaccinated and boosted, we are seeing fewer cases result in hospitalization or death — which is why we encourage everyone aged 6 months and older to get vaccinated and stay up to date on their boosters if eligible.”
In-school surveillance testing will still be available to all students, teachers and other staff members. But those interested must re-enroll this year — last year’s registrations will not be valid for the new year.
That consent form is available online at color.com/cust/readycheckgo-cps.
Testing will begin the week of Aug. 29, and each student and staff member will be given take-home rapid tests the first week of school.
Unvaccinated students and staff members will be able to test to stay in school this year as long as they’re not showing COVID symptoms — a policy that’s been endorsed by federal and state health officials. If exposed to the virus, anyone who hasn’t been vaccinated can work or learn at home for five calendar days, then wear a mask at school for the next five days or stay in school by testing negative over the next few days and wearing a mask for 10 days.
Those who are vaccinated can stay in school but must wear a mask for 10 days. Masks otherwise remain optional but are highly recommended.