Schools grapple with enforcing COVID-19 vaccine, testing mandates

SPRINGFIELD, IL — The school board for Springfield District 186 has moved forward with possible discipline against two teachers who have not complied with COVID-19 vaccine or testing mandates.

The teachers, Kadence Koen and Kingsley Keys, say their conscience won’t allow them to comply. Fellow teacher Kimberly Smoot is complying with the testing, but told the school board Monday she won’t take the vaccine. She worried about a slippery slope.

“First we must test, then you take away the option to test and make us get the vaccine,” Smoot said. “Next, that’s not enough and we must get a booster according to your schedule. When we give up our rights, even if it’s little by little, we will never get them back.”

Springfield school teacher Sara Combs stood in support of teachers not complying. She said testing requirements are discriminatory and arbitrary because even vaccinated people can spread the virus. Combs said the governor’s mandate is not law “as it has not been through legislative process.”

“And even a state law is unconstitutional if it violates rights protected by federal law,” Combs said. “If you vote to terminate these teachers, you’re not only doing an evil thing, but you’re also inviting massive civil rights lawsuits.”

Association of Illinois Rural and Small Schools Executive Director Dave Ardrey said possible lawsuits affecting local taxpayers has smaller schools uneasy.

“That could cause school boards or communities to say ‘we’re going to hold off, or we’re not willing, or we’re concerned about the cost to our districts in litigation,” Ardrey said.

For smaller districts, Adrey said the mandates are complicating things.

“Where I think you see some of the rub, or you see some of the frustration is a sense of loss of local control,” he said.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker mandated all educators from pre-K through college get vaccinated or submit to weekly testing.

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