Chicago Public Schools will require COVID vaccinations for all employees, the district announced Friday.
The requirement, which comes just days before the district's Aug. 30 start date, includes school-based teachers and staff, central office, regular vendors and network employees, and all other Board employees, unless they qualify for a medical or religious exemption.
“Our Chicago Public School communities deserve a safe and healthy environment that will allow our students to reach their greatest potential,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement. “This new policy enhances the district’s comprehensive reopening plan and ensures that students and staff can confidently learn in-person. Taking this step will further our citywide vaccination efforts and build on our progress in slowing and stopping the spread of COVID-19.”
Under the new policy, all staff will be required to submit proof of full vaccination by Oct. 15, unless they have an approved religious or medical exemption. Those who have not already reported to the district that they are fully vaccinated must be tested once a week at a minimum until Oct. 15 or until proof of vaccination is submitted. Staff with a documented exemption will need to be tested for the remainder of the year.
“The science is clear: higher populations of vaccinated people means better health outcomes in communities, safer places of work and public spaces,” Interim CPS CEO Dr. José M. Torres said in a statement. “This is the right move for the greater good of our school communities and will help ensure we have a successful and healthy school year starting on Monday, August 30.”
A person is considered “fully vaccinated” two weeks after receiving the second dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna COVID vaccine, or two weeks after receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The district had previously announced that all students and teachers will be required to wear face coverings and social distance while indoors this upcoming academic year, regardless of vaccination status.
"Continuing to require masks will hep make sure those in our school communities who are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, which encompasses the majority of our students, remain as safe as possible," CPS said in a letter to students, families and staff.
CPS launched its COVID-19 vaccination effort earlier this month, transforming three high schools into clinics to inoculate students before the new school year.
The district plans to offer full in-person instruction in the fall and also wants to vaccinate as many students as possible before classes begin. District officials previously said they are “not in a position” to mandate COVID-19 vaccines, but will ask families to submit COVID-19 vaccine documents as is the practice with other vaccinations.
More than 50,000 children under the age of 18 have already been vaccinated in Chicago, according to the city’s Department of Public Health. Roughly 350,000 students attend Chicago Public Schools.
“As I have said all along, the best way to protect yourself, your family, and your community from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated. The vaccine is safe, effective, and anyone 12 and older can get it for free in Chicago,” Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said in a statement. “For the social and emotional well-being of our young people, they need to be in school, and the vaccine adds another layer of protection to our plan to safely re-open schools.”
The Chicago Teachers Union said the move aligns with their requests, but added the district "must do more to provide safety and recovery to school communities."
"We urge the mayor’s CPS team to build on this safety standard by concretely addressing critical outstanding safety issues, and investing CPS’ and the City’s $4 billion in federal relief funds in what our students and families need to return to schools safely this fall, and for schools to remain open," the union said in a statement.