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Vaccinated school employees in Illinois would receive paid sick leave for COVID-related absences

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A new proposal from Gov. J.B. Pritzker would make it easier for employees at K-12 schools, universities, and colleges in Illinois to use paid time leave for COVID-related absences.

But it comes with a key stipulation: Employees must be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Pritzker’s plan would replace another bill the governor vetoed that did not include the vaccination stipulation.

The governor announced a compromise with the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Education Association, the state’s largest two teachers union, on Monday. Pritzker also announced that he vetoed a similar bill, HB 2278, which would have allowed all employees — whether vaccinated or not — to use paid administrative leave for COVID.

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The governor’s office is currently working on filing a bill in the state’s House of Representatives in the next few days, according to a spokeswoman, Jordan Abudayyeh. It’s still unclear when the new bill will be introduced and which legislator will carry the bill. This legislative session started with lawmakers working remotely and days have been canceled amid the surge in coronavirus cases due to the highly transmissible omicron variant.

“Vaccines are a vital tool” and school staff who are fully vaccinated deserve to take the time “they need to respond to the ongoing devastating impacts the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have on them and their families,” Pritzker said in a press release.

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Kathi Griffin, president of the Illinois Education Association, praised the compromise between the governor’s office and the teachers unions.

“We want people to stay home when they’re sick, to be able to care for their children when their children need them the most, and to be paid when the circumstances that close their buildings are completely beyond their control,” Griffin said in a statement. “This bill protects school and university employees and all those they teach, drive to and from school, feed and care for in so many ways.”

The proposal would allow fully vaccinated employees to use paid administrative leave if they have contracted COVID or if they were a close contact of someone who tested positive for COVID. It can also be used if the employee has children who are in quarantine after testing positive for COVID or were a close contact. Paid administrative leave will be restored to employees who previously used their sick leave due for the same issues.

The proposal would also include wage protections for all hourly school employees such as custodial staff, transportation, food service providers, classroom assistants, and administrative staff who may have missed work days because a school closed or switched to e-learning, causing the employee to go without pay or take earned paid time off.

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The plan appears to be another push by the state to get school employees vaccinated against COVID.

At a public hearing last week during the state board of education’s monthly board meeting, some teachers pushed back against a proposed teacher vaccine mandate saying that it’s a personal choice. Others spoke in support, saying that vaccine mandates are a key tool in the fight against COVID.

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