Editor’s note: This story will continue to be updated online as new numbers are received.
Over a month has passed since Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced a statewide vaccine mandate for school employees, forcing education leaders to act quickly and roll out plans to collect vaccine records and host weekly COVID-19 testing. They also boosted their efforts to educate workers on the benefits of getting the COVID-19 vaccine and drew a list of disciplinary actions for those who do not comply with the mandate, which includes possible termination.
So, how do Oak Park and River Forest schools hold up?
As of Sept. 30, 90% of Oak Park and River Forest High School employees and 80% of students are fully vaccinated, according to the school’s COVID-19 dashboard. Unlike OPRF employees, students can still voluntarily submit proof of full vaccination. The high school, which is home to more than 500 employees and approximately 3,370 students, first sought a 70% vaccination rate, but that overall target goal has since changed because of the highly contagious Delta variant.
“According to our most recent guidance, we should aim for a fully vaccinated rate of close to 90% or higher,” the school stated on its website.
At Oak Park Elementary School District 97, 91% of its 900-plus staff are fully vaccinated against the novel coronavirus, said Amanda Siegfried, senior director of communications. Meanwhile in River Forest, 97.2% of District 90 employees (approximately 213 out of 219 workers) are fully vaccinated, according to school data. Two of the remaining six school workers have already received the first dose of the two-shot COVID-19 vaccine, while the remaining four employees are authorized for religious or medical exemptions, Dawn Simmons, communications and community outreach coordinator, previously told Wednesday Journal.
Aside from school employees, Pritzker’s order also applies to college students, and Concordia University Chicago in River Forest is struggling to keep up with surrounding schools, including nearby Dominican University, which have now reached or surpassed that 90% benchmark.
On Oct. 6, Concordia reported that 56% of students and 86% of employees are fully vaccinated.
In an emailed statement to Wednesday Journal, the university “expect[s] the numbers above to increase as students and employees continue to take part in our on-campus vaccination clinics,” wrote Eric Matanyi, associate vice president for communications and marketing.
Unlike Dominican University, Concordia officials did not require faculty, staff and students to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to campus. DU reported Sept. 30 that 100% of on-campus students and 97% of employees are in compliance with the state mandate.
Jessica Mackinnon, Dominican’s director of public information, explained that those percentages reflect the students and full-time employees, which include part-time adjunct faculty, who are either fully vaccinated or have been authorized for exemptions and report weekly for COVID-19 testing.
She shared further that 100% of DU’s 2,302 students “who are subject to our vaccination policy (taking in-person or hybrid classes on campus)” are following the state’s vaccine mandate. Eighty-six students and seven employees have approved exemptions and get tested for COVID regularly, said Mackinnon.
Mackinnon said DU continues to encourage employees to upload their vaccination records by Oct. 22, “after which employees may be subject to subject to suspension without pay.”
Back at Concordia, Matanyi said the university has encouraged staff and students to get the COVID-19 vaccine since they became available earlier this year. Matanyi noted that Concordia has initiated a gradual disciplinary process for their students and employees who do not comply with the state mandate “but are only sharing the specific details with those individuals.”
“We trust the science related to the vaccine but also respect each individual’s right to make the best personal choice for themself,” he wrote in an email. “CUC continues to host free vaccination clinics on campus, making vaccines readily available to those who wish to receive them.”
Since this spring, Concordia has held dozens of vaccination clinics, including three last month, and offers free COVID-19 vaccines for faculty, staff and students, as well as their immediate families. The university plans to host another clinic from 1 to 3 p.m. Oct. 15. Clinics are first-come, first-serve, and pre-registration is required. For more information, visit www.cuchicago.edu/general-information/covid-19-information.
“CUC remains dedicated to meeting the state’s mandate by providing robust, on-campus COVID testing for unvaccinated individuals,” Matanyi also wrote in an email, noting that Concordia’s COVID-19 positivity rate remains “exceptionally low.”