As Chicago Public Schools teachers and students prepare to return to the classroom, some teachers say they are making a personal choice not to get vaccinated and have no plans to meet CPS’ vaccination deadline.
"There’s a group of teachers that have talked to lawyers about it and they said its going to be very difficult," said one CPS teacher, who didn’t want to be identified. "But we’re all pretty adamant we’re going to push it and see where it goes."
The CPS teacher told NBC 5 she's been with the district for 16 years and said she's willing to risk losing her job.
"Absolutely. There’s not a doubt in my mind,” she said. “If I have to leave, I have to leave. That’s unfortunate."
While CPS is not requiring students over the age of 12 to get vaccinated, the district said all employees must get the shot by Oct. 15 to continue to work unless they have an approved medical or religious exemption.
“If employees want to keep their job they’re going to have to get vaccinated,” said employment attorney Patrick Dolan of Siegel & Dolan. “There have been court challenges so far in this country that have been unsuccessful, and I think that trend is going to continue.”
CPS hasn’t said how many employees have been exempt so far. But the latest data shows around 78% of employees are fully vaccinated or received at least one dose of the vaccine.
Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, says that the coronavirus vaccine is the surest way to protect residents against all current strains of the virus, including the delta variant.
"With case counts now rising back to this level, the risk has increased for everyone, even those who are vaccinated," Arwady said. "The time to act is now to prevent further spread. Chicago residents who have not yet been vaccinated should get a vaccine as soon as possible—it will protect you and your loved ones from the risk of serious illness or even death."
Arwady said it is critical to act to avoid further spread of COVID, and to beat back advances made by the delta variant in the city.
"I know how strongly people feel one way or the other," said another CPS teacher who didn’t want to be identified. "I see it as an infringement at least on my personal liberties."
The decision is weighing heavily on the CPS special education teacher. He knows he is putting his 10-year career on the line by not getting the shot.
"I think the choice is being essentially forced," he said. "It’s saying you take this or go find somewhere else to work and that’s heartbreaking."
The first day of school starts Aug. 30. NBC 5 learned that employees who are not vaccinated must be tested weekly leading up to the Oct. 15 deadline.