NORWOOD PARK — Parents at a Far Northwest Side elementary school want an employee to be fired after she posted comments about students’ vaccination status on Facebook.
In January, an employee at John W. Garvy Elementary School, 5225 N. Oak Park Ave., whose children attend the school, got into an argument on Facebook with other moms about non-vaccinated children having to quarantine when someone in their class tested positive for COVID-19, said parent Tammy Grabowski, who is also in the group.
“I know who is vaccinated and who is not because I have access to that information,” posted the school employee, according to screenshots shared with Block Club.
She went on to write that the majority of kids with COVID-19 at the school at the time were vaccinated, but that asking unvaccinated children to quarantine was not fair.
Grabowski, whose second-grade child has attended Garvy since kindergarten, said she was upset by the comment and that the employee was bragging she had access to private records. She also posted anti-vaccine and anti-COVID posts in the same Garvy moms group, Grabowski said.
“It infuriates me that an employee of my child’s school would go on Facebook and talk about private health information,” Grabowski said.
While the post did not include any specific private health information of students and wasn’t a direct violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the incident has parents concerned that their children’s personal health information could be shared. Some, like Grabowski, want the employee fired for her comments.
“She has lost the trust of parents,” she said. “As a Garvy employee, she shouldn’t have been posting in a Garvy moms group in the first place.”
Another Garvy parent who saw the comment, who requested to remain anonymous due to fear of retaliation, also wants the employee removed for her social media comments.
“Even if she was allowed to access that info, it was very unprofessional of her to go on Facebook and say, ‘I know which students are vaccinated or who has COVID,'” the parent said.
He said the employee has posted problematic comments in the Facebook group before the January incident relating to anti-vaccination beliefs and comments about CPS’ new bathroom policy, which also raised parent concerns. But the latest comment should be a fireable offense, he said.
“She has a right to those beliefs but she does not have a right to have access to my child’s vaccine records,” he said.
Multiple parents told Block Club the employee is no longer part of the Facebook group, but they reported the incident to Garvy Principal Stephanie Bester. She responded by saying that she understood it was a security concern but could not discuss the situation further because it was a matter of personnel.
Bester did not reply to requests for comment and a school official directed all questions to CPS. In a statement through the district, the school declined to comment on the incident because it involves staff personnel but said the issue was dealt with last month, in accordance with district policy and procedures.
CPS spokesperson Evan Moore declined to say if the employee was punished but said the district continues to prioritize safety and student and parent privacy during the pandemic.
“The District has strong policies and guidance in place that explicitly states we are to follow student privacy laws – Illinois School Student Records Act (ISSRA) and Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) — and are not allowed to disclose identifiable student information without parent consent absent very specific exceptions,” Moore said in a statement.
Parents said the employee is still employed at the school. The employee did not respond to requests to comment.
Another Garvy parent, who also requested to remain anonymous due to fear of retaliation, reported the incident to the administration but said the school’s handling of the situation reflects badly an otherwise positive community.
She said the employee shouldn’t be terminated but should be reprimanded and transferred to a new position that doesn’t have access to private information.
“I just don’t trust her around personal confidential info,” the parent said. “You have to be neutral [as an employee] … you cannot use your position to post that information.”
She wishes the school had taken the issue more seriously and that it was more transparent in what steps they took to make sure something like this won’t happen again.
Grabowski agreed and said she was disheartened by the way the school responded to her concerns. She wants to see the employee and school take accountability and do more to appease frustrated parents.
“People in all professions have been fired for defamatory social media posts. This should be no different,” she said. “CPS should take this very seriously, but they are trying to sweep it under the rug and that can’t stand.”
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