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Teachers' union urges most schools to not reopen for in-person learning

Capitol News Illinois
Posted on 7/22/2020, 1:54 PM

SPRINGFIELD -- One of the state's largest teachers' unions said Monday that most schools in Illinois are not yet ready to reopen for in-person teaching in the fall and it urged schools to continue operating remotely until the safety of students, teachers and staff can be assured.
"At this point, our recommendation is schools should return to online or remote learning after the beginning of the school year," Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, said during a video news conference. "That is the safest and best option. It's safest for the students and their families. And it's also the most practical."
K-12 schools in Illinois, along with colleges and universities, were ordered closed for in-person classes on March 15, just days before Gov. JB Pritzker issued a statewide stay-at-home order in response to the emerging COVID-19 pandemic. They remained closed through the remainder of the school year and were allowed to reopen for summer school on only a limited basis in early June when the state entered Phase 3 of the reopening plan.
On June 23, as the state was entering Phase 4 of the reopening plan, the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois State Board of Education released guidelines for the resumption of in-person classes for the upcoming 2020-2021 academic year.
"In-person instruction is strongly encouraged in Phase 4," the guidelines state. "[H]owever, it is critical to note that this does not signify a return to pre-pandemic operations. Appropriate social distancing, face coverings, enhanced sanitation measures, and other accommodations will be necessary to ensure the safety of students, staff, and their families."
Those guidelines require, among other things, use of appropriate personal protective equipment, or PPE, including face coverings; prohibiting more than 50 people from gathering in one space; observing social distancing as much as possible; monitoring all individuals for symptoms of COVID-19; and an increase in schoolwide cleaning and disinfection.
But IFT issued a statement Monday suggesting those guidelines do not go far enough. In addition to the measures IDPH and ISBE recommended, IFT called for districts to negotiate their reopening plans with their local teachers' unions, allowing a blended model of in-person and online learning that would limit class sizes to no more than 15 students at a time, giving teachers authority to decide what the best model is for their students, and requiring a two-week quarantine for any student or staff member who tests positive for COVID-19.
Montgomery said there might be some schools in the state that are able to meet those standards. "But most districts right now are not able, we believe to hit the marks, the benchmarks in terms of social distancing, in terms of all the PPE and cleaning," he said.