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Education unions call for lawmakers to make schools safe for all

SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Education Association (IEA) and the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT) are calling on the state legislature to address the issues outlined below that would make Illinois schools safe for all.

School district failure to implement and enforce the IDPH guidance and requirements for schools puts the health of our teachers, students, and communities at risk. Because local decisions to return to in-person instruction or have remote learning have become so politicized, IEA and IFT are asking state lawmakers to set clear parameters that must be followed.

The IEA and IFT are asking 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.”

There are Illinois counties with more than 1,700 cases per 100,000 residents and positivity rates at more than 24 percent, currently. According to the health officials, safe levels of community spread are lower than 70 cases per 100,000 and lower than 8 percent. As of Friday, 101 of Illinois’ 102 counties were at an “orange” warning level for metrics.

“If we can get these measures passed, we can keep school buildings open. We can get Illinois’ economy running again. We need lawmakers to find a way to meet and pass these measures to keep schools safe for students and the adults who teach and care for them,” Montgomery said.

“Frankly, if the state legislature sets metrics for what keeps school doors open or triggers remote learning, it will help communities police themselves. If they see their numbers are broaching dangerous levels, they can control, by their own behavior, whether schools stay open. This is something that is greatly needed. We need lawmakers to do this on behalf of all residents of Illinois,” Griffin said.

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The 135,000 member Illinois Education Association (IEA-NEA) is the state’s largest union. IEA represents Pre K-12 teachers outside the city of Chicago and education support staff, higher education faculty, retired education employees and students preparing to become teachers, statewide. 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.


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