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Rockford teachers union demands choice for teachers to work from home, district requiring teachers in schools

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ROCKFORD (WREX) — The Rockford Public School Board met both in-person and online Tuesday night for its board meeting. The Rockford Education Association demanded the board consider giving teachers the option to teach from home during the districts adaptive pause.

The meeting began with REA's President Mel Gilfillan addressing the board. Gilfillian argued the coronavirus outbreak at Spring Creek is reason enough to allow teachers the option.

"We don't want to see this happen again," Gilfillan said. "The district now has a much more robust remote learning plan than we did in the spring. We've learned from our past experiences and have had nine months to improve on remote learning."

In addition, Gilfillan said the district has spent millions of dollars preparing for this moment.

Gilfillan's comments come on the heels of the COVID-19 death of 38-year-old Summit Academy teacher Mike Padron.

One board member and Superintendent Dr. Ehren Jarrett expressed condolences to Padron's family over his death. However, the board didn't address Gilfillan's concerns during the meeting, which angered teachers who shared their frustration on the union's private Facebook page.

One comment sarcastically read, "So glad the board members are so concerned."

However, on Monday, the district sent a letter to teachers and staff that said resources, like internet quality and printers, are better in schools. The letter went on to say that it's difficult to balance a classroom when working at home.

After the meeting on Tuesday night, we asked Dr. Jarrett to give his thoughts on the frustration from teachers. He echoed the sentiments from Monday's letter.

"We certainly heard what the REA had to say, the board feels that teachers are essential workers," Dr. Jarrett explained. "We feel that teachers can do that essential work best when supported in their buildings."

Students will go remote for that adaptive pause starting Nov. 30 through Jan. 4.

County School Facilities Tax

The board is also exploring a new sales tax that would provide flexible funding for the district. The tax revenue could be used for construction and renovations, but the district is also considering it to fund school resource officers and mental health professionals, according to a spokesperson for the district.

The money would be divided up amongst all the school districts in Winnebago County evenly.

In total, 57 counties in Illinois are using this tax, including Boone, Lee, and Whiteside Counties. But 23 counties attempted to pass it and failed. That includes Stephenson, Carroll, and Ogle Counties.

But it's not just the board that would need to pass it. Voters would need to approve it in a referendum on the ballot. On Tuesday night, board members agreed a timeline to getting it on the April 2021 ballot would be a tall order, so if they were to pass it, it likely won't be up for vote until March 2022.

Richard Bodee

Richard Bodee is a reporter at WREX. He joined the 13 WREX team in June 2019 after graduating from DePaul University with a Master’s degree in broadcast journalism.

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