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11 Illinois teachers file lawsuit over state vaccine, masking requirements

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TROY — Eleven educators have filed a lawsuit against Edwardsville CUSD 7 and Triad CUSD 2 over the statewide COVID vaccination, testing and masking mandates for school employees.

They are doing so without the support of the Triad education unions.

The Illinois Education Association represents the teachers unions in both Edwardsville and Triad. The Edwardsville union has not released a statement through the IEA.

Both districts have formally implemented mitigations that comply with executive orders issued by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker. They mandate school faculty and staff either be vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing and that all who enter the school buildings, students include, must wear a face covering.

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The teachers' lawsuit argues that such mandates are up to the local health departments, not the school boards.

Members of Triad Education Association and Triad Education Support Personnel Association filled the school board meeting at Triad High School on Monday night decked in red shirts. The presidents of both unions spoke in favor of the safety mitigations the school district has implemented and separated themselves from the employees filing suit.

Four police officers and sheriff deputies stood at the doors of the meeting. There were no incidents that required their intervention.

"As an organization, TEA stands firmly with safety and science," TEA President Andrew Frey said. "But, like all organizations, we have individual members who hold different opinions, to which they are entitled. However, they do not speak for us as a whole and they do not represent the majority of our members.

"Standing here tonight, getting the chance to represent the majority of the members of the TEA to speak out on behalf of the health and the safety of both the students, and the staff who care so deeply for them, is the whole purpose of belonging to a union."

The safety mitigations in Triad and Edwardsville, including mandates for masks and vaccinations or tests, are standard practices for most Illinois school districts this year.

Three parents in the district have also filed a lawsuit against Triad District 2 over the mask requirement.

Both suits were filed by Bond County attorney Tom DeVore, who has a prolific list of cases going back more than a year related to executive orders made during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In both lawsuits, DeVore argues in the complaints that the measures — masking in the case of students and employees and either vaccination or mandatory testing in the case of staff — are not the school districts' to implement, but the county health department's.

"Quite simply, the Edwardsville District and the Triad District are infringing upon the lawful right of the Triad and Edwardsville Educators to be free to choose for themselves what health and safety measures they feel are appropriate, absent their consent or an order from this honorable court to the contrary as required under Illinois law," the complaint filed in Madison County states.

Both school boards met Monday night, with several parents and community members speaking at both about COVID mitigations. They were split in their opinions.

Jamey Hartley, one of the Triad parents requesting a restraining order for his children in the district, said they were past the point where what parents or school officials had to say about the mandates mattered — it's up to the courts.

"I'm going to accept whatever that outcome is," he said to the board. "I hope you do the same."

A hearing for the parents' lawsuit is scheduled for Wednesday at 1 p.m. in Madison County Circuit Court.

Temporary restraining orders have already been issued on behalf of parents or guardians represented by DeVore in Carlyle CUSD 1 in Clinton County, North Mac CUSD 34 in Macoupin County, Quincy Public School Schools 172 in Adams County and Hillsboro Community School District 3 in Montgomery County.

Those students are not required to wear a mask on school property for the duration of their restraining order.

Between Sept. 18 and Friday, there were 23 students who had tested positive for COVID-19, with 10 of those cases coming from the middle school, according to the Triad COVID-19 dashboard. In the same time period, two staff members tested positive. There are 3,929 students in the district, according to the Illinois Report Card.

Between Sept. 13 and 20, Edwardsville reported 23 positive cases out of 7,343 students.

School districts who self-report COVID cases and exclusions through COVID dashboards differ in how frequently they are updated and which data points they track.

A hearing for the Edwardsville and Triad educators' lawsuit has not yet been scheduled, according to the court docket.

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