Geneva, St. Charles school workers denied temporary restraining order in COVID-19 vaccine, testing case

A Kane County judge has denied a request for a temporary restraining order in a case filed by four employees from St. Charles Unit District 303 and Geneva Unit District 304 who are challenging COVID-19 vaccination and testing requirements.

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. They want a judge to prevent their employers from enforcing an order from Gov. J.B. Pritzker banning school workers from buildings if they are unvaccinated against COVID-19 and refuse to be tested weekly.

Cournaya, Otterby, White and Todd filed their complaint against the districts on Sept. 17. They added Pritzker as a defendant on Thursday.

But during a hearing on Friday, Judge Robert Villa said the four plaintiffs failed to meet several of the legal requirements to get a temporary restraining order.

Villa said they failed to show they would suffer irreparable harm if they took COVID-19 tests. They also failed to show there was no adequate remedy if they did suffer damages, the judge said.

In addition, he said they failed to prove the order violated a "protected right."

Even if they are barred from the buildings and not paid, the teachers and the secretary can sue the districts for unlawful termination and try to get back pay, Villa said.

The bus driver instructor is an at-will employee the Geneva school district can fire any time without cause, Villa said.

Villa said their complaints are mostly about refusing to be tested. That's because the bus driver received a vaccine waiver on religious grounds. Two of the others have also received vaccine waivers on religious grounds, according to their lawyer, Patrick Walsh.

The four plaintiffs contend the school districts are interfering with their rights by enforcing a "modified quarantine." They say the governor has no authority to impose modified quarantines, and that only the state or county health departments have that authority. If a health department wants to quarantine a person, and a person objects to it, the health departments then have to ask a judge to order the quarantine.

The governor's executive order required school workers to obtain at least the first dose of a vaccine by Sept. 20. If they have not, they are supposed to be tested weekly and submit the results to their employers.

The districts' superintendents said Wednesday they did not ban any workers from their buildings this week. St. Charles Superintendent Jason Pearson said teachers could be tested on-site if they wished. District 303 offers the SHIELD saliva tests.

Walsh has 21 days to reply to the school districts' and public health department's arguments. A new court date was not announced.

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