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Pritzker signs bill creating paid COVID sick leave for all vaccinated school employees

Teacher Sarah Schielke attends to a question from Nathan V. at CICS West Belden. The Chicago charter school employs the personalized learning method for its K-8 students. The school is part of the Chicago International Charter School network, and is managed by Distinctive Schools,. Photo by Stacey Rupolo/Chalkbeat NOTE: Last names not given by school

Illinois school employees across the state will receive paid COVID sick leave if they are fully vaccinated under new law signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday morning. The law will also restore sick days used during the 2021-2022 school year.

Stacey Rupolo / Chalkbeat

Gov. J.B Pritzker signed into law a bill that gives paid sick leave to all fully vaccinated Illinois school staff who have to take time off for COVID-related reasons and provides wage protection for hourly school employees who miss school because of closures or e-learning. 

The bill creates paid administrative leave for all  employees of public schools, charter schools, community colleges, and universities throughout the state who have to stay home for COVID-related reasons. It also restores COVID-related sick days to employees who had to use them earlier in the 2021-2022 school year.

The bill “ensures that if a teacher has done their part to keep their classroom safe for their most vulnerable students, they won’t have to worry for a second about their pay or their paid time off if they get COVID, if they’re required to isolate or if the school has moved to e-learning and their work can’t be done at home,” Pritzker said Tuesday morning at the state capitol.

The bill, which went into effect immediately, passed both chambers of the legislature in late March. 

School employees can also use the benefit if their child has to quarantine because they either contracted the virus or were in close contact with someone who did. For bus drivers, janitorial workers, lunchroom staff, and classroom assistants impacted by school closures or e-learning days, the bill will protect hourly wages. 

“Because of this new law, when I have to miss school to keep students safe and prevent the spread of COVID, I don’t also have to worry about how I will pay my bills, or if I need to think about finding a different job,” said Angela Bulger, a paraprofessional at Central Elementary School at Central School District 104, who spoke during the signing event.

Bulger, who started working at her district in August 2021, had to take off eight days due to COVID-19 during the school year. Bulger contracted the coronavirus in January during a surge in cases due to the highly contagious omicron variant and had to miss work because her 7-year-old daughter was exposed to the virus.

Bulger’s school district only gives school employees 11 sick days per year and she was concerned that her pay would be cut if she missed any more days. 

Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, thanked Pritzker for signing the bill. 

“By signing this bill today, Governor Pritzker has provided important relief and ensured that education personnel can afford to take time off if they or their families become ill with COVID-19,” Montgomery said in a statement on Tuesday. “His leadership will help keep our students and communities healthy even as new variants arise and COVID rates in our state fluctuate over time.”

Stacy Davis Gates, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, attended the bill signing this morning and in a press release said the bill is a part of the effort to get safety measures for educators and students.

“Our members, our students and all of our families have worked their hearts out to support each other through more than two years of this pandemic,” said Gates. “Collectively, we’ve worked tirelessly for safety measures so educators and students who have sacrificed so much in the era of COVID can get the resources and supports they deserve. This bill is a critical part of that effort.”

Correction: The original story misspelled Angela Bulger’s last name.

Samantha Smylie is the state education reporter for Chalkbeat Chicago, covering school districts across the state, legislation, special education, and the state board of education. Contact Samantha at ssmylie@chalkbeat.org.

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