Teachers union calls for online-only instruction in Elmhurst District 205
The teachers union in Elmhurst Unit District 205 is calling for the academic year to begin with online-only learning, signaling growing resistance to school reopening plans as coronavirus cases continue to climb.
The leader of the Elmhurst Teachers' Council, the union that represents more than 700 district educators, said the school board's model "brings too many students back into the classroom far too quickly."
The board last month approved a plan to provide full-time, in-person instruction for elementary and early childhood students. Middle and high school students would follow a hybrid schedule. Families also can choose a remote option.
But teachers describe proposed safeguards as inadequate or unattainable in school buildings. Council President Max Schoenberg said switching to an all-virtual format would enable the district to focus on one mode of instruction and avoid the "nonstop" educational and emotional disruptions created by confirmed virus cases.
"It is a certainty that if we bring students back into the building, the coronavirus is going to spread, and that means that classrooms are going to start going into quarantine," Schoenberg told the Daily Herald. "We're in a very tough situation where students could go home not knowing whether or not they're going to set foot in their school the next day."
The council issued a statement Monday through the Illinois Federation of Teachers, pressing the district to change course. It comes one week before the school board's next meeting Aug. 11.
"The science says to limit large gatherings, maintain distance, and wear masks," the council statement read. "These are practically impossible for students to sustain and incompatible with daily life in an intellectually thriving, physically active and emotionally caring environment."
Schoenberg also cited staffing challenges with the existing plan. At least 200 teachers have submitted doctors' notes about underlying conditions that put them at elevated risk for contracting COVID-19.
"If the entire district works together to start the year with online learning, then students can take the classes that they signed up for," he said.
Superintendent David Moyer said administrators and council leadership have scheduled additional reopening talks for next week. Two days after the board approved the plan in July, administrators met with union officials and agreed to begin reopening conversations around two topics, "with further conversations on hold until additional information became available," Moyer said in a statement.
"The administration is looking forward to a collaborative dialogue about how to best support student learning, while protecting the health and safety of our students and staff," Moyer said.
The district also worked with the council to establish its Open D205 Committee. More than half the committee members were teachers and several were formal labor representatives, Moyer said.
"The administration has worked with the DuPage Health Department to develop a decision making matrix should a move to full remote learning be deemed necessary, which will be shared with the public this week," Moyer said in the statement. "Since the board approved the plan, many factors are being considered about how to implement the plan at each of our school sites, including the fact that 85% of our parents would like their students in school in either an in-person or hybrid model and the concerns expressed by our teachers."
The district and the board will continue to monitor the health environment and make adjustments, Moyer said.
The health department has reported 528 confirmed cases and 41 deaths in Elmhurst since the start of the pandemic.
The union on Monday also encouraged the district to provide professional development to improve the remote learning experience and work with community groups to make child-care available to families.
"We should plan for how to bring students back to school, but we should plan to do it in a very gradual way only when the health conditions have improved," Schoenberg said.