The Illinois Federation of Teachers has called for school districts to return to remote learning for the beginning of the school year, saying that it is the safest option for students and families.
“We arrived at this position by talking to our members extensively about how we get back to teaching in the fall and how we do it safely,” said Dan Montgomery, president of IFT. “Our primary concern is keeping everybody safe, not only our members but our students, their families, and the communities we all work in.”
The union’s position isn’t absolute. Montgomery said that there may be some places in the state that could reopen school buildings for classes: “If that can happen, that’s a good thing. But, the big note for everybody is that this is an extremely rare occurrence in our experience.”
The union, which represents about 103,000 educators, announced its position on Monday. The announcement comes less than a week after the Chicago Teachers Union called for all-remote learning in the fall, noting that Black and Latino students are most likely to be impacted if coronavirus cases spike.
So far, schools districts across the state have announced reopening plans with a hybrid model of in-person and remote learning, as well as giving families a choice to continue remote learning.
One of the biggest concerns union leaders raised was that schools won’t be able to meet the requirements for providing personal protective equipment and masks, and creating conditions for social distancing to help contain the spread of COVID-19.
Beth Anderson, president of the Kankakee Council of Local 604 and a special education teacher at Kankakee School District 111, said that staff members and students tested positive for coronavirus over the summer. Currently, her district’s reopening plan includes in-person instruction and remote learning.
“Even with practicing all the recommended guidelines, we’re not sure how we’re going to be able to cover the in-person instruction with quarantines, isolation and then routine illness with such a severe shortage of subs. With all that in mind we do feel incredibly helpless right now,” said Anderson.
Another concern for the union was about who is more likely to spread the virus. In his remarks, Montgomery cited a recent study of nearly 65,000 people in South Korea that found children between the ages of 10 and 18 are just as likely to spread the virus as adults. That raises questions about the safety of reopening schools.
Pankaj Sharma, vice president of the North Suburban Teachers Union Local 1274, is a high school history teacher in Niles Township High Schools District 219, and he said that social distancing will be hard for his school, which serves 2,000 high school students.
“One of the joys of teaching is in-person learning and daily interactions with our students,” said Sharma. But, he said, “We’ve learned that children over the age of 10 can spread coronavirus as easily as adults. For the safety of our students, their families, our colleagues and our families we believe that remote learning is the only real option.”
If schools are able to safely provide in-person learning, IFT asks that school districts prioritize bringing younger students and students with disabilities to campuses. They also called for state leaders to address childcare issues for working families.