6 Chicago teachers who sued school system over vaccination warrant win legal victory

CHICAGO — An Illinois judge issued a temporary restraining order on Friday that prevents Chicago Public Schools from taking employment action against six teachers for refusing to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or undergo weekly tests.

CPS is “the only remaining school district in the state that still enforces this. None of the other school districts that are in this situation are trying to get teachers vaccinated or test compliant,” said downstate attorney Tom DeVore, who represents the six CPS teachers. “They should drop it.”

The CPS released a statement Friday evening on Sangamon County Circuit Judge Raylene Grischow’s decision: “The District disagrees with the court’s decision and will continue to fight this lawsuit and the TRO, because we believe that our current health and safety protocols are in the best interests of our students, staff and school communities.

The district said it intends to appeal the decision and will seek a stay of the restraining order.

The CPS announced an employee vaccination mandate in August, with allowances for medical or religious exemptions. The district later relaxed those rules, but said partially vaccinated and unvaccinated staff members should test for COVID-19 weekly.

The CPS says about 8.5% of its staff — some 4,100 employees — are required to test themselves, according to district data.

Grischow previously issued a temporary restraining order against the district in February in a challenge to Illinois Governor JB Pritzker’s school COVID-19 policies such as universal masking, quarantine of unvaccinated close contacts of an infected person and testing of unvaccinated staff members.

DeVore, a Republican candidate for Illinois attorney general, said that after this temporary restraining order entered, two of his six clients continued to work at CPS without undergoing weekly testing. The other four teachers were still tested, DeVore said.

“They kept testing because they were waiting for the process to go through the appeals court, and they were scared during that time,” he said.

The appeals court dismissed Pritzker’s appeal against the temporary restraining order as moot because Illinois Department of Public Health rules requiring masking and other COVID-19 protocols had been allowed to expire.

The Illinois Supreme Court declined to hear the case, overturning the temporary restraining order.

DeVore said the two CPS teachers who refused to take the test were told last month by the district to comply with the rule or risk being placed on nondisciplinary administrative leave without pay. The CPS did not end up taking action against those teachers, DeVore said. He said on Friday he was ready to add 13 CPS employees to his lawsuit.

Legal pressure from DeVore’s fight with CPS over its coronavirus mitigation strategies helped prompt the district to drop its mask requirement for most students and staff last month.

Jeremy S. McLain