(via Dan Montgomery, IFT President)
Last week, Illinois officials reported a record number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) is urging residents to stay home. We call on every school district - as well as Governor JB Pritzker and the Illinois State Board of Education - to do the right thing and take immediate action to protect students, educators, staff, and communities by closing school buildings during this COVID-19 surge. Furthermore, we call on the governor and IDPH to establish and enforce clear metrics for schools to guide them for any future closures, so that individual districts and school boards can ensure safety within their communities and create plans for executing remote learning or in-person instruction based on science and positivity rate data.
Make no mistake: our members are working harder than ever - long hours, working in environments that risk their health, learning new ways to reach students, and doing everything they can to make learning successful this year. Our members from preschool to higher education want to be back with their students, but the stakes are too high to open school buildings for in-person instruction while the death toll and infection rates surge. We understand the pain that both parents and students are going through to adjust to this new reality. That's why we urge the public to adhere to CDC guidelines by wearing a mask and social distancing. Public health officials have warned us that with the winter and holidays ahead, COVID-19 outbreaks will only worsen while the virus thrives in enclosed spaces. The sooner the virus is under control, the sooner we can return to a semblance of normalcy.
Since schools, colleges, and universities transitioned to remote learning in March, the IFT has made it a priority to ensure that all plans to return to in-person instruction prioritize health and safety, are grounded in science, and follow CDC and IDPH guidelines. But many school districts are ignoring science and endangering the health and well-being of our students, teachers, and staff. This is especially dangerous in Black and Brown communities, whose residents have been hit hardest by the pandemic. We must work together to ensure that schools do not become epicenters of virus spread and to protect each other as we continue to educate our students during this unprecedented time.
Too many IFT locals are fighting to keep instruction remote because of double-digit positivity rates in their communities. Some school buildings are outdated and need improved ventilation systems. Some do not even have adequate hot water for handwashing. By allowing in-person instruction regardless of the current uptick in cases and positivity rate data, districts are jeopardizing the health and safety of students, teachers, families, and communities.
We will help our locals do whatever it takes to protect their students and members.