Chicago Public Schools to offer teachers COVID-19 vaccine in mid-February

Chicago Public Schools will begin vaccinating its teachers in mid-February, officials announced Friday as they head into a weekend of uncertainty with thousands of teachers preparing to defy orders to return to classrooms next week.

Educators in Illinois will become eligible for their COVID-19 shots on Monday, according to the state’s vaccination plan and could receive one at any point going forward from their private health care provider or a local pharmacy.

CPS expects to receive its own supply of vaccine next month and will start offering inoculations to its teachers at four sites across the city.

“There is nothing we want more than to get the shots in the arms of our dedicated staff,” schools chief Janice Jackson said at a morning news conference at Ellington Elementary in Austin. “If we could vaccinate everyone today, we would do it. But with supplies being limited, our plan to distribute vaccines will need to take into account several factors.”

The district will prioritize workers who have been reporting to schools since the start of the pandemic, such as security guards, cafeteria workers and clerks, Jackson said. Staff over 65 and with high-risk medical conditions will also be given priority.

Notably, CPS’ plan does not call for the delay of in-person school until more educators are vaccinated. That idea, proposed by the Chicago Teachers Union, has been rebuffed by CPS and the Chicago Department of Public Health.

“Vaccination is one critical mitigation strategy, but it is not the one that keeps the schools safe,” Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said. “The ones that keep the schools safe are the ones that we have already seen in place.”

The district has spent $44 million on disinfectants, PPE, air purifiers and other measures to ready schools for the return of staff and students.

But teachers have expressed serious concerns the precautions haven’t done the job. Educators have said they’re worried for their safety if they return to schools where not all protocols are being implemented uniformly.

Hundreds of staff members have been allowed to continue working from home because of medical conditions that make them vulnerable to COVID-19, but many others are angry that they’ve been denied accommodations despite living with a medically vulnerable family member.

CTU members are voting through Saturday night on a resolution to continue teaching from home Monday instead of reporting to schools. About 10,000 elementary and middle school staff were expected to return next week, adding to the 3,800 preschool and special education cluster educators and therapists who have been teaching in person since early this month.

If the union approves the collective action and collectively refuses to return to schools Monday, the district has said it will consider the move an “illegal strike.”

Asked Friday if remote learning would be halted in that scenario, Jackson would only say the district would view the action as a strike. CPS will update parents this weekend if that happens, she said.