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By Carmen Ensinger
North Greene School board opted to take a “wait and see” stance on the recent guidance from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to amend its Back-to-School Plan regarding the vaccination of its staff at its Sept. 15 school board meeting.
“The guidance from ISBE is pretty clear,” North Greene School Board Superintendent Mark Scott told the board. “They want the staff to either provide documentation that they have been vaccinated or submit to weekly testing.”
Board President Stacy Schutz said ISBE can’t legally do that since it is not a law.
“You specifically told me that it is not a law,” she said. “It has to pass legislation and they are not going to mess with people’s medical records. It is not a law.”
Scott said, no, it wasn’t a law, but it was guidance and that he was worried about what sanction would come down upon the school if they were not to follow the guidance.
“Right now, they don’t even have the right to take a school’s recognition away for the mask issue,” Schutz said.
Scott agreed, but pointed out they are still on probation.
“And while they are on probation and trying to figure it out, they are not playing sports,” he said. “How much risk do you want this district to take.”
Schutz felt the battle had to start somewhere.
“What hill are we willing to die on,” she asked. “How many employees are we going to lose? How many bus drivers are going to be left? How are we going to keep our school going? I would like to hear other board member’s opinions on this.”
At the beginning of the meeting, when the board asked for a statement from guests, there were opinions expressed on the subject.
Bus driver Mick Hallock expressed the feelings of his bus drivers.
“Some of our bus drivers don’t want this mandate thing and are wanting to leave if they have to be forced into it,” he said. “We have already lost two sub drivers because they don’t want to get swabbed so now we are down to just one sub now. I know you guys got a tough decision to make but I thought I would let you know that drivers are hard to come by. I don’t know what we are going to do if we lose one more time.”
Teacher Stacy Thomas said she wanted to raise her voice in opposition to the vaccine mandate because she doesn’t think it is fair.
“I don’t think it is fair and I don’t think it is accurate, nor do I think it should be put into place,” she said. “You are going to make people who don’t want this stuff put in their bodies choose between that or having something shoved up their nose.”
Addie Blake, a special education paraprofessional at the junior high, passed out information in support of her statements.
“What I have passed out to you is the Healthcare Right of Conscious Act and it protects me from not having to get the vaccine and not having to get tested,” she said. “I love my job and I love those kids. The hugs that I get from those kids every day – I need them as much as they need me and to make me choose between being swabbed or getting a vaccine or losing my job – as much as I love those kids – I’m not going to be coerced into anything. I’m just not. I hate it, but it is what it is.”
Board member Casey Nell asked Scott what other schools in the area are doing.
“Jacksonville and Jerseyville are having vaccination clinics and doing what the guidance says and having people supply their vaccination cards,” Scott said. “If they won’t supply their vaccination cards or have lost them or don’t have them, they sign waivers where you look it up on ICares to verify if they have been vaccinated or not. If not, they are being tested weekly.”
Those are bigger districts, Nell wanted to know about the other districts in the area.
Scott said they are doing what the district’s attorney, Brian Braun, suggested they do, just wait.
“You got next week when it is supposed to go into effect,” he said. “He is like, slow-rolling it for a week. Get a count of how many haven’t been vaccinated and how many have. I can tell you we have a lot more that are vaccinated than are not.”
Scott said the guidance is clear – either you document or you test.
“A lot of people are getting way worked up and have guns blazing and are ready to take it, but this isn’t something a smaller district like us can take on,” he said. “In talking to Braun, the last time something like this was being settled in court with a school over vaccinations was in the 1920’s. There is no current case law that trumps this. Does North Greene want to take on something like that right now? Or do we want some school like Decatur or Peoria to do it? Then, when there is established case law, we will deal with it. Right now, there isn’t and we don’t need the risk.”
Schutz didn’t agree.
“We are so good at pushing it off on someone else all time,” she said. “If we are going to test and we know the vaccinated people can have COVID and spread it, why don’t we test everybody and make sure there is no discrimination. Just go ahead and test every employee.”
Scott said that the district doesn’t have the ability to do that every single week.
The board decided to take no action, and if necessary, to call a special meeting to approve any action required by ISBE in the future to stay in compliance.