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Oak Park’s District 97 school board voted unanimously Sept. 14 to approve a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with three collective bargaining units, laying out a full plan to comply with the state’s vaccine mandate.

The memorandum – which is between the district and the Oak Park Teachers’ Association, Oak Park Teachers Assistants’ Association and Oak Park Educational Support Personnel – requires members from those bargaining units and non-union staff to receive the single-dose COVID-19 vaccine or the first shot of a two-dose vaccine by Sept. 19. Following state guidelines, workers planning for a two-dose Covid vaccine must receive the second dose within 30 days of getting the first shot. In this case, District 97 employees need that second dose by Oct. 19.

“We continue to work in partnership with our BOE [board of education] and administration to make decisions that are healthy and safe for our students, staff and community as a whole,” said Hannah Boudreau, co-president of the teachers’ association, in an email to Wednesday Journal.

Negotiations are still ongoing with Service Employees International Union (SEIU), said Amanda Siegfried, spokesperson at the district, via email to the Journal. Siegfried said she cannot comment on the details of those negotiations or offer a timeline on when a decision could be made.

Among the other items listed in the memorandum, employees who are not fully vaccinated by Sept. 19 will be tested twice a week, starting the week of Sept. 20, on-site. Siegfried said the district plans on using the SHIELD saliva test on staff. Employees are also now required to disclose their vaccination status and submit proof of their vaccinations, the MOU stated.

District 97 workers who are looking to opt-out of the vaccine for medical or religious reasons are asked to file for exemption, which will be reviewed and granted or denied by the district’s human resources department. Employees who do not comply with the plan may face disciplinary action, including “discharge in accordance with applicable collective bargaining agreement policy provisions,” according to the MOU.

Vaccination is still the leading strategy for protecting our community against COVID-19 and keeping our schools open for in-person learning

Amanda siegfried

“Vaccination is still the leading strategy for protecting our community against COVID-19 and keeping our schools open for in-person learning,” Siegfried said. “While we are pleased that our overall staff vaccination rate is 88%, we are still aiming to reach or exceed our goal of 90%.

“We appreciate the collective efforts of our staff to comply with this mandate and protect the overall safety of our schools.”

In a separate agreement, District 97 and the Oak Park Teachers’ Association also agreed on a remote learning plan for students.

Students could only qualify for remote learning if they were ineligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and were under quarantine orders by a local public health department or the Illinois Department of Public Health, according to a previous resolution by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE).

That ruling has since changed. State board members have expanded remote learning to include students who are quarantined after being possibly exposed to COVID-19 in school.

Based on the district and association’s agreement, students in remote learning will now have a “window into the classroom.” That means, students in remote learning will be able to connect with their classrooms via Zoom, but there are some adjustments.

Students won’t be able to participate in discussion, raise their hand or use the chat feature, an email announcement to district families outlined. Students can only listen in, as teachers are asked to turn the audio on for the Zoom session. Teachers who use a whiteboard or are presenting can turn the camera on only for that portion of the lesson, the email stated.

The agreement noted that teachers who “choose to be available” for quarantined students during their personal planning period or after school will be paid at a contracted rate of $35 an hour. District 97 relied on providing remote instruction for quarantined students through substitute teachers, but like so many others, the district has faced a shortage of substitute teachers, “making it more difficult to implement the original plan for remote learning,” the email also stated.

OPRF also reaches agreement

At Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200, the school board also approved a memorandum with its Faculty Senate, a collective bargaining unit, regarding the state’s vaccine mandate. The MOU between District 200 and the Faculty Senate – which was approved at a Sept. 9 special board meeting and applies to senate members and non-members – outlines similar deadlines and details on vaccination records, submissions and disciplinary actions.

The memorandum also stated that employees who test positive for COVID-19 will be placed on paid administrative leave during their isolation period. The MOU clarified that this is intended for employees who are either fully vaccinated or exempt from vaccinations and tested positive for COVID-19. Employees looking to return to work after completing an isolation period need to submit a release letter from a medical professional or the health department.

D200 employees who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or have not submitted proof of vaccination by Sept. 19 will be tested once a week, the MOU stated. Like District 97, D200 plans to offer on-site testing, as well.

In an emailed statement to the Journal, District 200 and the Faculty Senate said they are “happy to have collaborated on this joint agreement to do what is in the best interest of not just our students, but our school community as a whole.”

“The top priority of administration and faculty is always the safety of those in our building,” the two entities wrote. “The testing program we’re implementing for unvaccinated employees not only complies with the governor’s mandate but also helps ensure that we’re doing everything possible to maintain a safe environment for students and staff.”

As of Sept. 16, 89% of employees at OPRF are fully vaccinated, according to district data.

Another clause included in the memorandum centered on remote learning. Teachers can now provide “audio and video observational access to their classrooms” for students in isolation or under quarantine and learning at home.

Under the MOU, teachers at OPRF can livestream their classes as deemed “appropriate to the instructional needs of the lesson.” Students in remote learning can observe, watch or listen in, but they may be unable to interact with the class in “real time,” as “teachers are expected to teach in-person students.”

“With the state’s prohibition against fully remote or hybrid learning this year, being absent for COVID-related reasons has been stressful for our students and families,” D200 and Faculty Senate wrote in a joint statement. “We are pleased that we can offer students in isolation or quarantine the ability to observe their classes, so they have as much access as possible to a quality education during their absence.”

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