"They are jeopardizing the safety of students, teachers, staff, and our entire community."
Summit, IL -- With the pandemic still raging throughout Illinois, members of the Argo High School Teachers Council of the West Suburban Federation of Teachers (IFT Local 571) have filed an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge against School District 217.
The ULP was filed late on January 11 in response to the district’s recent announcement that in-person instruction will resume at Argo Summit High School on January 19, despite the fact that the safety metrics previously agreed to by the district and the union have not been met.
“Last fall we reached an agreement with Superintendent Toulios and the district that set the parameters for when students and adults could safely return to our school. Until last month, they were abiding by them,” said Council President Kyle Stern. “But by violating that agreement and unilaterally deciding to return to in-person instruction at this dangerous time, they are jeopardizing the safety of students, teachers, staff, and our entire community. We cannot stand idly by and let that happen,” he added.
The COVID positivity rate in Summit (as of January 11) is over 16%. That is more than double the 8% rate agreed to by the district and the union for a safe return to in-person instruction as recommended by the IDPH. The community also has a high population of Black and Brown residents who have already been hit hard by the virus, making the decision to reopen prematurely even more egregious.
The ULP charges that the district disregarded their own safety metrics and violated a return-to-work agreement. The union is asking for a return to remote instruction and for the district to adhere to the agreed upon safety metrics.
“Our teachers want to be back in the classrooms with students as soon as it’s safe to do so,” said Stern. “But the data clearly shows that now is not the right time.
“In this district we have many multi-generational families living in the same household,” he added. “I’ve heard from numerous students who have had relatives die from COVID. Our kids have dealt with far too much trauma already. The risk of returning to classrooms now is simply too great.”
The approximately 140 union members are also seeking proof that their building and classrooms are safe. The district claims that they have mitigated for the virus but has not provided proof to the union that a hazard assessment for infectious disease has been conducted. Teachers are particularly concerned about whether building ventilation is adequate, a critical factor in the transmission of the airborne virus. The union previously requested that an industrial hygienist be hired to assess the building’s safety and offered to cover that cost, but the district flatly refused.
“We have made every effort to collaborate with the district to ensure that in-person instruction will return at the appropriate time, but by forcing a dangerous and unnecessary return to classrooms they have given us no choice but to stand up for what’s right,” concluded Stern. “We hope that Superintendent Toulios and the district will reconsider this unwarranted decision and sit down with our union to develop a safe, thoughtful plan for what we all want – a safe return to school.”
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The Argo High School Teachers Council of the West Suburban Teachers Union, Local 571, represents about 140 teachers in District 217. They are affiliated with the Illinois Federation of Teachers. The Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT) represents 103,000 teachers and paraprofessionals in PreK-12 school districts throughout Illinois, faculty and staff at Illinois’ community colleges and universities, public employees under every statewide elected constitutional officer, and retirees.