The District 117 Superintendent says those who issued the vaccination mandate should bear the legal liability, as lawsuits begin to mount around the state.
In a letter addressed to State Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Carmen Ayala, and copied to the State Board of Education and Governor J .B. Pritzker on Friday, District 117 Superintendent Steve Ptacek says staff members who do not comply with the executive order requiring vaccination or testing, will not be excluded until steps are taken to remove or lessen the legal risks.
Many school districts throughout Illinois have received letters from attorneys representing employees that have claimed exemption from testing under the Health Care Right of Conscience Act (HCRCA).
Ptacek says if the district excludes staff that are not complying with Executive Order 2021-20, it assumes substantial legal risk, but if the District does not exclude employees, it is then in defiance of an executive order.
Ptacek says he has received advice from more than one attorney, and each firm has issued a similar non-committal response that shows how far districts are now treading into legally unknown waters.
“The testing itself can be argued by attorneys that that is something that cannot be mandated under that act. Now I have listened to multiple law firms and they are saying that there is a likely chance that [school] districts could win a claim under HCRCA, but there is always a chance they could lose. And either way, it could take years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees to come to that final conclusion.”
Ptacek says the solution to the problem is very easy, so long as state leaders are willing to actually lead.
“And that is for the Governor to clearly state that it does not apply, the legislature to actually alter the act to make sure that it does not apply or to clearly state that it does apply, either way giving us a direction.
And at this point in time, our attorney feels that the ISBE would clearly state the repercussions to school districts that fail to comply with the executive order, and that provides them with a very strong legal stance to argue that it is not our decision but the Governor acting through the ISBE’s decision to enact this executive order. Therefore we would not be the prime defendant.
And as showing in many legal cases that have been occurring throughout the state, it is the local school district that is taking the brunt of the legal defense of the Governor’s executive orders. And I just feel strongly, and I am taking a strong stance that that needs to stop.”
Ptacek says until school districts are given some action by the state that lessens their legal liability, or an act that removes the question in its entirety, the risk involved with excluding somebody who has made a claim under HCRCA is so substantial to the taxpayers he feels he is not doing his job if he were to move forward and place District 117 and the community in that risk.
“As given by our attorney, someone who has a total benefits package of fifty thousand dollars a year that say were to lose their job or were to be out for a year, that could take years and end up with a half a million dollars in penalties and legal fees for each incident.
Right now I need to know from the ISBE what are the actual ramifications we are going to receive by not following the executive order so we can then actually compare risk.”
Ptacek says the purpose of the letter was not to talk out against or for the executive order, and he wants to make it clear that District 117 will “stay in our lane” and not defy any executive order.
He says if he receives notice that the district is facing a substantial loss by not fully complying, it will immediately fully comply.
Ptacek says he hopes something can be done soon to help all school districts that are now in this extremely precarious position.