CHICAGO (CBS) — Just weeks before the start of the new school year for Chicago Public Schools, the district announced Friday that it will require all employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 15, unless they qualify for a medical or religious exemption.

“Our Chicago Public School communities deserve a safe and healthy environment that will allow our students to reach their greatest potential,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement. “This new policy enhances the district’s comprehensive reopening plan and ensures that students and staff can confidently learn in-person. Taking this step will further our citywide vaccination efforts and build on our progress in slowing and stopping the spread of COVID-19.”

READ MORE: 'When I Finally Got To Be Elvira, That's When My Life Calmed Down': Mistress Of The Dark Peels Back The Curtain

The vaccine mandate applies to all CPD staff, including teachers, central office workers, regular vendors, network employees, and all other Chicago Board of Education staff.

All CPS staff must submit proof of full vaccination by Oct. 15, unless they have an approved religious or medical exemption.

 

Employees who have yet to show proof they are fully vaccinated must be tested for COVID-19 at least once a week until their proof of vaccination is submitted. Those with a vaccination exemption must be tested weekly throughout the school year.

Employees without an approved medical or religious exemption who are not fully vaccinated by Oct. 15 will be ineligible to work until they are fully vaccinated and provide confirmation of vaccination to CPS.

READ MORE: Teen Stabbed With Scissors After Argument On CTA Red Line Platform At Jackson Station

The district already was requiring students and staff to wear masks indoors for the start of the 2021-22 school year. The first day of class for CPS is Aug. 30, with school clerks reporting back to work on Aug. 18, and teachers, paraprofessionals, and other school personnel represented by the Chicago Teachers Union back in schools on Aug. 23.

“The science is clear: higher populations of vaccinated people means better health outcomes in communities, safer places of work and public spaces,” said Interim CPS CEO Dr. José M. Torres. “This is the right move for the greater good of our school communities and will help ensure we have a successful and healthy school year starting on Monday, August 30.”

“We want people to take this seriously and keep themselves safe,” said Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey.

Union leaders say a vaccine mandate alone isn’t enough peace of mind for staff and many families. They continue to push for even more access to vaccines – including in-school options and other safety measures.

CTU Vice President Stacy Davis-Gates sidestepped whether the union is considering a work action or strike if demands aren’t met.

“It’s not a fight. It’s how do we stabilize the school year, keep people safe and ensure that we are making the appropriate decisions for safety and learning,” she said.

According to CPS, 78% of its employees already are either fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated, or had a vaccination scheduled as of June; and 67% have reported being fully vaccinated.

MORE NEWS: Record 53,000 Rat Complaints Help Chicago Retain Crown As Rattiest City In America For 7th Year In A Row

“As I have said all along, the best way to protect yourself, your family, and your community from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated. The vaccine is safe, effective, and anyone 12 and older can get it for free in Chicago,” said Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady. “For the social and emotional well-being of our young people, they need to be in school, and the vaccine adds another layer of protection to our plan to safely re-open schools.”

CBS 2 Chicago Staff