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Illinois education unions call on lawmakers to make schools safe during the pandemic

Empty School Classroom

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WREX) — Two teacher unions in Illinois are calling on lawmakers to make classrooms safer during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Illinois Education Association (IEA) and the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT) say local decisions of returning to in-person learning has become politicized.

Both IEA and the IFT are now asking state lawmakers to work on five measures to keep schools and communities safe:

  • Establish clear metrics, so districts know when to switch to remote learning to keep students and staff safe.
  • Enforce guidance and requirements put forth by the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), and heed the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
  • Provide rapid COVID-19 testing in schools so infected students and staff can be identified before they spread the virus.
  • Urge the prioritization of education workers in the vaccine schedule.
  • If the Federal CARES Act isn’t renewed, the state needs to step in, so education workers are not forced to work while ill.

“We want to be able to teach our students in person, however we must make sure their learning environment is safe,” said Kathi Griffin, IEA president. “We have worked with state agencies. We have talked with the governor’s office. We have sought expertise from doctors and medical professionals. We have engaged with local departments of health to ensure someone, anyone, will enforce guidance put forth by the state of Illinois. But nothing guarantees this. There are no statewide metrics to guide districts so they know when they need to provide remote instruction because the teaching and learning environment is not safe. This must change.”

“If schools are to reopen safely, education workers should be prioritized to receive the vaccine,” said IFT President Dan Montgomery. “Furthermore, the set of legislation we are calling for will put science and medicine in the driver’s seat as we all try to resume in-person schooling. Right now, school districts are free to ignore science and thus endanger our students’ and staff’s health and well-being. This is especially dangerous in Black and Brown communities whose residents have been hardest hit by the pandemic. We must ensure that schools do not become epicenters of virus spread, so we need our lawmakers to step in to establish clear metrics.”

As of Monday, the Illinois Department of Public Health is reporting 796,264 cases, including 13,343 deaths, in 102 counties in Illinois. 

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Andrew Carrigan

Andy Carrigan is the Social Media & Digital Content Manager at WREX. He joined the 13 WREX team as a photographer in 2016 after graduating from Northern Illinois University.

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