Edwardsville – Teachers unions in Madison County have filed to intervene in a lawsuit intended to allow school district employees to avoid the state order that they either be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus or be tested at least once a week.
Three teachers from Triad School District and seven from Edwardsville filed suit in September, saying the districts lack the authority to require testing or vaccinations and that local health departments should decide. The vaccine-or-test order originated with Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
The filings last week on behalf of 991 members of the Edwardsville Education Association, Edwardsville School Service Personnel Association, Triad Education Association, Triad Educational Support Personnel Association and the Triad Custodial, Maintenance and Utility Association argue for keeping the vaccine and testing requirements in place for the safety of schools’ teachers, staff and students.
The Triad Education Association decided to intervene after surveying its members, said its president, Andrew Frey.
“Ninety percent of our members are vaccinated, and the majority of those who aren’t are willingly complying with the testing process,” Frey said. “We have been in person, almost entirely, since the start of the 2020-21 school year. We want that to continue. We know it’s what’s best for our students. But we only do that if it’s safe for them and safe for all of the staff who work with them. We have trusted the science all along and we continue to do so.”
Safety is not limited to those who are in the buildings, union leaders said.
“I have two members who are married and have a child who goes to school in the district who was born with a severe lung issue,” said Jennifer Fowler, co-president of the Edwardsville Education Association. “The only reason she has been allowed to attend school in person is because of the mitigation factors that have been put in place. The only reason this child’s parents have been able to work is because those mitigation factors have been put in place.”
“It’s imperative to the lives of so many, and to the lives of so many they love, that the school environment be kept as safe as possible during this pandemic,” Fowler said.
Oral arguments in are expected to be set in coming days.
‘PRUDENT AND NECESSARY’
“The Illinois Education Association (IEA) proudly represents the educators in these districts, and this filing represents those members’ true will,” said Kathi Griffin, president of the IEA. “We are respectfully asking the court to support the districts and the educators in this matter to ensure continued in-person instruction in a safe environment.
“We believe the governor did what was legal, prudent and necessary to provide the best educational environment for students and that the districts followed those executive orders because they were following the law, doing their best to keep our students and members safe.”
The five local associations represent more than 1,000 education employees in the two school districts. Those employees include teachers, school psychologists, social workers, speech/language specialists, nurses, custodial workers, food service workers, paraprofessionals, security and secretarial staff. There are about 11,500 students in the two districts.
At 135,000 members strong, the IEA is the largest union in Illinois. It represents PreK-12 teachers outside of Chicago plus education support staff, higher education faculty and support staff, retired education employees and students preparing to become teachers statewide.