By: Brian R. Bare
The past thirty days have seen five executive orders, two sets of emergency rules and regulations, and four new or revised guidance documents regarding COVID-19 and schools in Illinois. This article provides an overview of these rapid developments.
On August 26, 2021, Governor J.B. Pritzker announced that COVID-19 vaccination requirements would be extended to school personnel, higher education employees and students, and healthcare workers, expanding on his prior announcement of a similar requirement for all state employees at congregate facilities (such as prisons, veterans homes, and facilities for the developmentally disabled.) Executive Order 2021-20 was issued that day addressing each of those groups. For state employees, it stated a deadline of October 4, but school personnel were subject to a two-week deadline – Sunday, September 5, in the middle of Labor Day weekend.
Pursuant to E.O. 2021-20, school personnel who were not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 would be required to participate in testing on a weekly basis. School districts around the state rushed to implement these requirements, but further guidance or regulatory input was not forthcoming from either the Illinois Department of Public Health or the Illinois State Board of Education. On the Friday afternoon before the deadline, Governor Pritzker issued Executive Order 2021-22, which extended the deadline for school personnel to September 19, 2021.
On Friday, September 17, as this second deadline approached, we received multiple issuances from the state.
- Governor Pritzker issued Executive Order 2021-23, which extended the vaccination deadline for state employees but not school personnel.
- He also issued Executive Order 2021-24, which mandated the exclusion of students or school personnel who are confirmed, probable, or close contacts of positive COVID-19 cases in schools. The text of this order did not differ significantly from the previous Part 5 guidance that had been issued by ISBE and IDPH on August 9, but it was significant that these mandates were now coming directly under the Governor’s executive order.
- ISBE posted (and removed, and later reposted) to its website Notice of Emergency Rules regarding the implementation of the vaccination or testing requirements for school personnel. Again, the text of these rules did not differ significantly from the prior executive orders. However, several new points were raised. Notably, it specified that staff in a school that is experiencing an outbreak of COVID-19 may be required to be tested two times per week for the duration. Other clarifications were provided on the documentation to be retained and the process for dealing with employees of third-party contractors.
- IDPH filed emergency regulations with the Illinois Secretary of State regarding quarantines and the implementation of these recent mandates. Notably, IDPH removed the definition of “modified quarantine” that had been relied upon in some litigation regarding the implementation of the Governor’s mask mandate and the exclusion of close contacts from schools. IDPH also created new regulatory language that implemented the school mask mandates and exclusion of close contacts and probable or confirmed cases. Finally, IDPH created language confirming that any requirements of vaccination or testing for COVID-19 by schools, employers, or other institutions are not intended to be limited by its regulations.
The ISBE emergency rules and IDPH emergency regulations are effective for 150 days, until February 14, 2022, unless withdrawn or superseded by permanent regulations.
On September 21, 2021, Governor Pritzker issued Executive Order 2021-25. In it, he made minor revisions to the school exclusion language set out in E.O. 2021-24. ISBE and IDPH issued a number of new documents as well, and alerted school districts via ISBE’s Weekly Message email.
- The Part 5 guidance document from August 9 was restructured to address the developments in the vaccination and testing mandate.
- The FAQ document from August 9 was significantly expanded, with 23 pages of new material being added.
- A “Fact Sheet” on E.O. 2021-24 and the recent emergency regulations was issued. Notably, it did not reference the minor revisions in E.O. 2021-25 that had been issued the day prior.
- IDPH issued a new “COVID-19 Exclusion Protocols” interim guidance document.
As of the publication of this article, no other guidance documents have been updated by IDPH or ISBE. Whitt Law attorneys are available to discuss these and any other questions that you may have regarding the impact of state and federal guidance upon Illinois school districts and plans for the return this fall. Districts are advised to consult their attorneys before making significant changes to their current plans.