Teacher unions call for online learning, threaten strikes if safety steps not met

  • A suburban teacher works on a weekly video for his fifth-grade class.

      A suburban teacher works on a weekly video for his fifth-grade class. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer, April 30

 
 
Updated 7/29/2020 5:17 PM

The state's two teachers unions say all schools should start the year with remote learning and threaten strikes "absent a practical safety plan that includes a clear line of responsibility and enforcement."

Officials from the Illinois Education Association and Illinois Federation of Teachers issued a joint statement Wednesday saying "no avenue or action is off the table -- the courts, the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board -- nothing, including health and safety strikes."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Scores of school districts are already planning in-person learning for the fall, with some also offering remote learning or a blend of each.

The unions argue that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that a return to in-person instruction is "high risk."

The IFT issued a list of safety measures last week it says would allow a safe return to in-person teaching, including class sizes of no larger than 15 students or rooms that can accommodate more students and still abide by social distancing protocols.

The union also wants two-week quarantines for anyone who tests positive at the school or had a high-risk exposure. The union wants teachers who have to be quarantined to be given "special paid sick leave."

Daily temperature checks, contact-tracing protocols, accessibility to testing and remediation of poor ventilation systems in schools are also part of the IFT's requirements.

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"We are working to ensure that any district providing in-person instruction in Illinois is prepared and able to abide by the safety measures outlined by the state, the federal government, and medical professionals," the statement issued on behalf of IFT President Dan Montogmery and IEA President Kathi Griffin read. "If those measures are not met, we will do everything we can to protect our students and those who care for them."

Union officials said the COVID-19 pandemic, which is responsible for the deaths of nearly 7,500 Illinois residents so far, puts everyone at the schools at risk.

"If a return-to-learning plan is not safe, we will act," the statement read. "Our working conditions are our students' learning conditions. Unions were founded on workplace safety. The COVID-19 pandemic brings us back to our roots."

The unions represent more than 238,000 school and university employees throughout the state.

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