Union calls on Illinois schools to suspend in-person learning
WESTMONT, Ill. — The president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers is calling on school districts across the state to suspend in-person learning amid the current wave of coronavirus infections.
“Last week, Illinois officials reported a record number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths,” Dan Montgomery wrote in a statement. “The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) is urging residents to stay home. We call on every school district – as well as Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois State Board of Education – to do the right thing and take immediate action to protect students, educators, staff, and communities by closing school buildings during this COVID-19 surge.”
While Pritzker’s statewide COVID-19 mitigation plan leaves decisions about in-person learning up to school districts, Montgomery is calling on state officials to “establish and enforce clear metrics for schools to guide them for any future closures, so that individual districts and school boards can ensure safety within their communities and create plans for executing remote learning or in-person instruction based on science and positivity rate data.”
“Make no mistake, our members are working harder than ever–long hours, working in environments that risk their health, learning new ways to reach students, and doing everything they can to make learning successful this year,” Montgomery said. “Our members from preschool to higher education want to be back with their students, but the stakes are too high to open school buildings for in-person instruction while the death toll and infection rates surge. We understand the pain that both parents and students are going through to adjust to this new reality. That’s why we urge the public to adhere to CDC guidelines by wearing a mask and social distancing. Public health officials have warned us that with the winter and holidays ahead, COVID-19 outbreaks will only worsen while the virus thrives in enclosed spaces.”
Montgomery said many Illinois school districts are ignoring science and endangering students and staff.
“This is especially dangerous in Black and Brown communities, whose residents have been hit hardest by the pandemic,” he said. “We must work together to ensure that schools do not become epicenters of virus spread and to protect each other as we continue to educate our students during this unprecedented time. Too many IFT locals are fighting to keep instruction remote because of double-digit positivity rates in their communities. Some school buildings are outdated and need improved ventilation systems. Some do not even have adequate hot water for handwashing. By allowing in-person instruction regardless of the current uptick in cases and positivity rate data, districts are jeopardizing the health and safety of students, teachers, families, and communities. We will help our locals do whatever it takes to protect their students and members.”
The Illinois Federation of Teachers represents teachers in the Harlem School District, which has suspended in-person instruction in the high school until after Thanksgiving break because of COVID-related absences.
The Rockford Education Association, a chapter of the Illinois Education Association, earlier this month called on the Rockford School Board to move to virtual learning districtwide. The board voted to keep the district’s hybrid model in place for now.
“We know there are concerns and struggles in this unpredictable school year, and we appreciate our staff, students’ and families’ perspectives during this difficult time,” Superintendent Dr. Ehren Jarrett wrote in a statement. “Our administration is in constant communication with the Winnebago County Health Department to determine our next steps and ensure it’s safe to offer in-person and blended-model instruction for students and families who need it. We will continue to work with our local health officials to plan our next steps.”
Pritzker is expected to issue another statewide second stay-at-home order as virus infections continue to spike, causing a swell in hospital capacities. Although it is not known if it will include schools.