Illinois Teachers Union Says School Year Should Start Online

WESTMONT, IL — The union representing teachers in Illinois called for the school year to begin with remote learning. A return to in-person instruction is currently too risky, according to the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

In a statement issued Monday, the statewide teachers union provided a list of 10 safety measures that every school district and college needs for its members to feel safe returning to the classroom. Too many schools cannot achieve “critical safety benchmarks,” it said.

“We arrived at this position by having talked to our members extensively about how do we do this,” Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery said in the statement. “Our primary concern is keeping everybody safe — not only our members, but our students, their families and their communities. At this point, our recommendation is that schools should return to online or remote learning for the beginning of the school year. It is the safest and best option.”

Citing a recent study from the Kaiser Family Foundation that found 24 percent of teachers are at high risk of a serious illness if they contract the coronavirus, union leaders said starting the year online was necessary for the safety of both students and staff — especially as infection rates begin to rise again in some areas of Illinois.

“For me it’s an issue of life or death, as I live with diabetes and am high risk,” Northeastern Illinois University academic adviser Elizabeth Villareal said in the statement. “I want to do my job, but I want to ensure that my safety and the safety of my students is protected.”

While calling for school buildings to remain shuttered statewide to start the 2020-21 academic year, the union also announced its belief that foreclosures and evictions must be halted, families need immediate access to free or affordable health care, educational institutions should be informed by trauma in their practices, student with the greatest need for in-person instruction should have priority, and all students must be provided with broadband access and devices.

“Since March when schools closed unexpectedly, our members across this state have given their all to educate students during unprecedented times while facing countless challenges,” said IFT Executive Vice President Stacy Davis Gates, who also serves as vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union. “To ask them now to put their own safety and that of their students and communities at greater risk as the pandemic rages on is both irresponsible and unfair.”

According to the union, teachers recognize that remote learning is less than ideal but are committed to improving it.

“We’re teachers,” said Beth Anderson, a special education teacher in Kankakee. “We’re resilient. We’ll figure this out and learn how to make it work.”

“We’re advising our locals to work really hard with their communities and school management to get this right,” added Montgomery, a former English teacher at Niles North High School in Skokie who also serves as the vice president of the American Federation of Teachers. “We clearly can’t leave this to Trump and Betsy DeVos to figure out. We’ll be doing everything we can to make sure that people are safe.”

The union called on all educational institutions to have each of the following before reopening:

This article originally appeared on the Across Illinois Patch

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