Illinois' largest teachers union sets up its own panel to judge school reopening safety
The state's largest teachers union is creating a medical review panel it says will judge whether individual school districts' reopening plans are safe.
The 135,000-member Illinois Education Association initially supported Illinois' plan encouraging schools to resume in-person instruction based on public-health guidelines. But the IEA reversed course last week when it joined with the Illinois Federation of Teachers to push for remote learning and threaten lawsuits or strikes if unhappy with teachers' working conditions.
IEA President Kathi Griffin said the change of heart came because there is no system to assess or enforce health and safety measures for districts' reopening plans.
The union on Tuesday said it is partnering with the Illinois chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics to launch the panel of more than a dozen doctors who will review whether reopening plans meet public health guidelines.
A spokeswoman for Gov. J.B. Pritzker said his office worked with the Illinois State Board of Education and Illinois Department of Public Health to create comprehensive public health guidelines for a return to in-person learning "requiring masks and ensuring distance and hygiene are top priorities."
"Members of the IEA were a part of the committee that worked with public health officials to create and approve the school district guidance," spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said. "As the Governor has repeatedly said, there are hundreds of school districts around the state and decisions need to be made at the local level to develop plans that work for them, whether that be in-person learning, remote learning or a hybrid model."
She added that the governor has sought local enforcement authority for public health-related orders and will continue to seek out enforcement mechanisms.
"We will be watching to make sure our students' and educators' health and safety is being protected," Griffin said. "And if the panel finds a district is operating in a way that puts lives at risk, we will do everything in our power to keep people safe."
If a district's plan is deemed unsafe by the panel, local union leaders will seek changes, Griffin said.
"As we promised last week when we announced in partnership with the Illinois Federation of Teachers, no avenue or action is off the table -- the courts, the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board -- nothing, including health and safety strikes," Griffin said. "The entire weight of the IEA and the IFT will be used in whatever way is necessary to protect the students of this state and those who educate them."