Teachers unions urge schools to maintain agreed-upon mask requirements

After a chaotic return to school Monday in the wake of a downstate judge's ruling late last week that seemingly overturned the state's classroom masking requirement, the Illinois Federation of Teachers held an emergency town hall with more than 250 local union chapter presidents throughout the state.

“Mainly they wanted to know how to protect people that were vulnerable,” said Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery. “We've advised our people that they can bargain the impact of this order.”

Montgomery said about a dozen local teachers unions, including Chicago Public Schools, already have masking requirements built into collective bargaining agreements.

He added that he's unaware of any plans for walkouts or strikes among the roughly 500 local teacher unions the Illinois Federation of Teachers represents statewide.

Illinois Education Association Vice President Al Llorens said districts should hold off until the state's emergency appeal of the lower court's ruling is adjudicated before making any adjustments to districtwide masking policies.

“We believe our school districts should wait to make any changes to COVID safety requirements until after this process plays out in our court system,” he said.

“We've been able to keep our schools open with these safety measures in place. We know that in-person learning is the best way for our students to learn and we should be doing everything we can to continue.”

Montgomery complained that some districts have gone too far by revoking the indoor mask requirement.

“The ruling clearly states it only applies to defendant districts, but you've had other districts not named in the ruling making masks optional,” he said.

“And even the districts that are named, the ruling only applies to students named in the suit as well. But we've also seen just about every possible permutation of interpretation of this ruling.”

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul on Monday filed an emergency appeal of the temporary restraining order issued by Sangamon County Judge Raylene Grischow. The defendants have two days to respond to the appeal, and then the appellate court has five days to make a decision, legal experts explained.

“We all want to get back to normal where you don't have to wear a mask, but we don't get there by wanting it alone,” Montgomery said.

“You get to the offramp of the pandemic through science, and there are smart ways to do this that is not this sort of mass confusion.”

New Jersey, California, Oregon and Connecticut have all announced various timelines for ending the indoor masking requirements in those states, signaling a move toward treating the virus as merely a part of daily life.

“The only way we got through the last two years was by working together, and we need to continue to do so,” Llorens said.

“Our students deserve a team of parents, community members, educators and other stakeholders behind them.”

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