Illinois Federation of Teachers latest to urge school districts and colleges to stick with remote learning this fall
The Illinois Federation of Teachers called on school districts Monday to return to remote learning for the beginning of the school year unless in-person teaching is safe and possible.
The announcement made IFT the latest statewide educators union to endorse the continuation of virtual instruction, though the federation didn’t completely reject the idea of in-classroom learning.
“There are some places in the state, and some school buildings, where they may be able to fashion some form of safe, in-person instruction,” IFT President Dan Montgomery said during a Monday news conference. “And if that can happen 1/4 u201a that’s a good thing. But the big note for everybody is that’s an extremely rare occurrence in our experience.”
Illinois officials have released guidelines for students’ return to the classroom, which includes face coverings and social distancing “as much as possible.” It suggested staggered schedules, schoolwide cleaning and disinfection, temperature checks for people entering schools and limited gatherings.
However, the Chicago Teachers Union, which is a member of IFT, has said Chicago Public Schools cannot reopen safely and called for the state’s largest school system to continue with virtual instruction in the fall. That conflicts with CPS’ preliminary plan to offer a hybrid of in-person, remote and live online learning.
The other 850 districts around the state have been formulating their own blueprints for the fall. Some plan to reopen schools with modified schedules, while others are sticking with remote learning or giving parents a choice.
The IFT wants all reopening plans to be negotiated with employee unions and include temperatures checks and limiting groupsto 15 students in elementary and secondary classrooms, as well as contact tracing and “special paid sick leave” for employees who are quarantined because of a positive COVID-19 test or high-risk exposure. The union is also calling for special accommodations for students and staff members with preexisting conditions that put them at risk.
Whether instruction is remote, in-person or a blend of the two, “whatever is going to be successful, it’s the people who are delivering it — those professionals need to be deciding and helping create what it’s going to look like,” Montgomery said. “Any superintendents doing what they want would be making a huge mistake, and I would hope that doesn’t happen.”
He called for younger kids and those who are most learning challenged, such as students with disabilities, to be brought in the classroom first.
The IFT also called for trauma-informed practices, a halt on evictions and foreclosures, and government support for child care for students across the state.
“There are many parents who are working who will need to be away from home during the school day,” Montgomery said. “We have to help them. It’s not going to help them to bring kids and create these congregate environments where they themselves may get sick and the parents get sick, but what can help them is that we have good effective safe child care.”
Rachel Esposito, the union president in Cicero District 99, said during Monday’s news conference that whatever precautionary measures are taken, “the reality is that there are still going to be positive cases. ... And we see it all the time, especially in a town like Cicero, this is a working-class community, we have a lot of essential workers that work in this community.”
Pankaj Sharma, vice president of the teachers union in Niles Township High Schools District 219, added that daily interaction with students is “one of the joys of teaching.” But he added: “Unfortunately, we strongly believe because of the safety of our students, their families and our colleagues, we cannot have in-person learning at this point.”
Tawnja Trimble, president of the McHenry County College Staff Council Local 1642, noted that health questionnaires and temperature screenings do little to protect against coronavirus transmission by asymptomatic carriers.
“Additional mandates such as face coverings add another layer of concern for our members,” Trimble added. “As we have often seen, attempts to enforce these mandates often escalate quickly, and many have even ended with violence.”
Montgomery said enforcement is a concern that many teachers have on returning to school.
“If you’re in a building, and the kids come in without wearing a mask, is your superintendent, is the school board going to back us up when we say those people can’t be in the building?” Montgomery asked. “The guidance is clear. Everyone has to wear a mask. Is it going to be enforced? If it’s not enforced, we have a huge public health problem.”
The IFT represents about 100,000 teachers and other school and college employees around the state.
Last week, another statewide school employees union, the Illinois Education Association, also urged school districts pursuing in-person instruction to meet a series of safety standards or consider remote learning.
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