Geneva, St. Charles school workers challenge COVID-19 vaccination, test requirements

Four employees in St. Charles Unit District 303 and Geneva Unit District 304 say their employers have no legal right to require them to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or tested.

District 303 teachers Nicole Cournaya and Jeffrey Otterby; a District 303 administrative assistant, Christine White; and a District 304 bus driver instructor, Terry Todd, are seeking an injunction in Kane County Circuit Court. They want a judge to prevent the districts from denying them access to the schools where they work if they are not vaccinated or tested.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s mandate specified workers had to have received at least the first dose of a vaccine by Sunday. If they didn’t, they would have to submit to weekly testing.

In the complaint filed against the districts and their superintendents, the four contend the school districts are interfering with their rights by enforcing a “modified quarantine” that was mandated by the governor’s executive order.

They maintain that the governor has no authority to impose a modified quarantine. Only the local health department or the Illinois Department of Public Health has that authority.

The order then can “either be submitted to voluntarily by the subject or objected to. And if it’s objected to, the department of public health has to go to the court and obtain a judicial order of quarantine against that individual,” said their attorney, Patrick Walsh.

Walsh said his clients “in general felt like they were being singled out because they were unvaccinated, not because they were any higher risk to carry or transmit the virus. They felt like they were being targeted.”

“The point of this suit is not anti-vaccine. It’s pro-constitution,” he said.

He added, “There is nothing that would stop the Illinois Department of Public Health or the local health department from issuing a proper order of quarantine against the plaintiffs.”

District 304′s spokesman Laura Sprague said in an email Monday, “We are aware of the complaint that was filed, and the district will work proactively in response.”

She did not explain what “work proactively” meant.

“We are aware of the lawsuit that has been filed and are working with our legal counsel to address the matter,” wrote Carol Smith, the St. Charles school district’s spokesman. “As a district, our priority continues to be to provide as much in-person learning in as safe an environment as possible for our students and staff members.”

A hearing on the matter is scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday before Judge Kevin Busch.

The ruling would affect all employees in the two districts, according to Walsh.

Walsh said there are “hundreds of teachers in these districts who feel the same way. We didn’t need to add their names to the complaint, but there are hundreds. We’re asking the court to provide relief to all the teachers.”

• Daily Herald staff writer Susan Sarkauskas contributed to this report