Union Sides With District in Recent Covid Lawsuits

Caspar Dowdy, Opinion Editor

The September 3 executive order left Illinois teachers with two options.

Be fully vaccinated, or undergo weekly COVID tests. Those who refuse both, the order mandates, are to be excluded from entering school premises.

Ten teachers from the Edwardsville and Triad school districts created a third option for themselves on September 23 when, represented by Greenville attorney Thomas DeVore, they filed a lawsuit against the two districts.

DeVore has, for the past several months, sued districts around the state in response to their COVID precautions, including an ongoing suit against Triad School District on behalf of parents who protest the requirement that their children wear masks. DeVore is representing six teachers from Triad and four from Edwardsville who reject the enforcement of the statewide executive order.

Triad superintendent Leigh Lewis, represented by attorney Stephanie Jones, plans to fight the lawsuit alongside both districts and Edwardsville superintendent Patrick Shelton.

“The lawsuits cost taxpayer dollars that districts could be spending on providing a safe and healthy environment for students to learn,” Jones said.

According to STLToday, the lawsuit claims that the vaccine mandates were issued illegally. The teachers filing the suit are requesting that they be allowed to enter school premises despite their unvaccinated status.

DeVore claims that districts “could have stood up for their educators,” but did not do so out of fear of disobeying orders from governor J.B. Pritzker.

The district has remained firm in its decision to enforce the mandate. While, according to DeVore, the teachers involved in the lawsuit have not been fired, a spokesperson for Edwardsville schools said the district will comply with the executive order.

“Providing all students and staff a healthy and safe in-person learning environment remains our top priority,” the spokesperson said.

On October 8, Edwardsville and Triad school districts were met with support from educators across the state.

“We are respectfully asking the court to support the districts and the educators in this matter to ensure continued in-person instruction in a safe environment,” Illinois Education Association President Kathi Griffin said. “We believe the governor did what was legal, prudent and necessary to provide the best educational environment for students and that the districts followed those executive orders because they were following the law, doing their best to keep our students and members safe.”

The unions representing district staff filed to intervene in the lawsuit to protect students, employees and workplace safety, a press release from the IEA states.

Unions in Triad School District have also voiced opposition to the lawsuit. Ninety percent of staff in the district are vaccinated, a statement from the Triad union says, and most unvaccinated staff comply with weekly COVID tests.

“Triad Education Association is committed to delivering the best possible education to the students of the Triad School District in the safest environment for the students and staff possible,” the union said in a statement.

Representatives of the Edwardsville Education Association declined to comment.