7 things to know about paid COVID sick leave for Illinois school staff

A doctor administers a vaccine to a patient. Both are wearing blue face masks.

A new law gives Illinois school employees paid leave for COVID-related reasons and restores sick days used during the 2021-2022 school year. However, there are some questions about who is covered under the new law.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law last month a measure that grants fully vaccinated school staff paid administrative leave if they have to take time off for COVID-related reasons. The law also restores COVID-related sick days to employees who had to use them in the 2021-2022 school year. School staff must be fully vaccinated by May 10 to be eligible for the benefits.

The law “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 when he signed the bill.

Here are seven things that educators and school employees need to know about the new law:

What’s the purpose of the law?

The law restores sick days to school staff who had to take time off due to COVID-related reasons during the 2021-2022 school year and provides paid leave in the future. 

Under the Illinois school code, teachers receive a minimum of 10 sick days per year — in line with national averages, according to the National Center for Teacher Quality. While the vast majority of districts allow teachers to carry over unused sick days from year to year without a limit, many educators used up their sick days for COVID-related reasons. Earlier in the pandemic, affected school staff were required to stay home for up to 10 days; it is now five days. 

Who is covered?

This law, HB 1167, covers fully vaccinated employees of K-12 public schools, charter schools, community colleges, and universities throughout the state who needed to take days off because they tested positive for COVID-19,  were required to quarantine by their school, or because their child tested positive or needed to quarantine. 

The law also covers hourly employees such as janitors, transportation employees, food service providers, classroom assistants, or administrative staff who could not perform their duties because of school closures or e-learning days.  

What age must their children be for school staff to be eligible?

This law applies to children who are in elementary or high school who had a confirmed positive case or were in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. The law does not cover children in day care or preschool. 

Who is considered fully vaccinated?

The law states that people are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 two weeks after receiving a full dosage of the Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson and Johnson vaccines. Currently, the state does not require boosters for someone to be considered fully vaccinated, according to a spokesperson for the state department of public health. The law says that can change if the Department of Public Health adopts changes made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

When should educators be vaccinated to be covered under the law?

All school staff must be fully vaccinated five weeks after the bill is signed into law, or May 10, unless an employee has a medical or religious exemption protected under federal law. 

Most educators were required to receive their first dose of a COVID vaccine in the fall by an emergency order issued by the governor. The state’s largest teachers unions  — the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Educators Association — supported the mandate. IFT has reported that a majority of its members are fully vaccinated. In Chicago, 90% of the district’s employees are fully vaccinated, according to a spokesperson for Chicago Public Schools.

What proof is needed to restore sick days or receive paid leave?

To restore sick days, Illinois school staff and their school-age children will need to provide proof of a positive lab COVID test or documentation of a quarantine because a school required it or because the employee or child was a close contact of someone who tested positive. Similar documents will be needed to receive paid leave.

Can school districts opt out of the law?

All Illinois school districts are required to follow this law, they cannot opt out. Schools cannot rescind sick days returned to a teacher or other school employees if the definition of “fully vaccinated against COVID-19” is changed by the CDC.

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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