St. Charles teacher no longer being paid after challenging vaccine, testing requirements
A St. Charles Unit District 303 elementary school teacher who has been challenging in court COVID-19 vaccination and testing requirements was told by the district on Monday she can longer teach at her school.
A Kane County judge last week denied a request from Ferson Creek Elementary School second-grade teacher Nicole Cournaya for a temporary restraining order to prevent District 303 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.
Thompson Middle School teacher Jeffrey Otterby, District 303 administrative assistant Christine White and Geneva Unit District 304 bus driver instructor Terry Todd joined Cournaya in asking for the temporary injunction.
"After 22 years of service in public education and risking my health last year to provide in-person learning for students, I was excluded from work today," Cournaya wrote on her Facebook page. "I am not being paid starting today because I am not consenting to the tyranny in Illinois. I am being discriminated against for my religious and medical beliefs. I stand for the Constitution. Agree with me or not, it's my choice."
The St. Charles Education Association has come out in support of the governor's vaccine mandate for teachers and staff members to reduce the spread of COVID-19. A COVID-19 vaccine for children younger than 12 is not yet available.
"The health and safety of our students and staff has always been our primary motivation in any conversations that we've had," said St. Charles Education Association President Joe Blomquist. "From the union perspective, the fact that the governor has given multiple pathways to provide any extra layer of health and safety in our schools, we support the approach that the governor has taken."
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. One was they failed to prove the order violated a "protected right."
Villa said even if they were barred from the buildings and not paid, the teachers and secretary had the ability to sue the districts for unlawful termination and try to get back pay.
Todd is an at-will employee the Geneva school district can fire any time without cause, Villa said.
Todd 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 governor's executive order required school workers to obtain at least the first dose of a vaccine by Sept. 20. If unvaccinated, they are supposed to be tested weekly and submit the results to their employers.
• Daily Herald staff writer Susan Sarkauskas contributed to this report