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Illinois teachers union calls on Gov. Pritzker to close school buildings again due to COVID-19 surge
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Illinois teachers union calls on Gov. Pritzker to close school buildings again due to COVID-19 surge

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Officials with one of the state’s largest teachers unions on Monday urged Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, the state’s board of education and local school districts to take immediate action to close school buildings due to the surge in COVID-19 cases across the state.

The teachers union is also asking the governor, the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois State Board of Education to establish and enforce clear metrics for school districts to guide them for any future closures, Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers said.

“There are plenty of superintendents and school boards that would like to call it, but they’re worried about the public’s reaction,” Montgomery said. “I think the majority of people want to do what’s right, and having clear metrics can be an inducement.”

While a growing number of school districts across the state have halted in-person student instruction in recent weeks due to the soaring number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, Montgomery said many school districts in Illinois are still requiring teachers to deliver remote lessons from their classrooms.

“It’s a very common thing teachers are facing right now, where some districts have stopped in-person instruction for kids, but they still want the adults in the building, even though we know that a number of people have gotten sick,” Montgomery said.

At his daily COVID-19 briefing on Monday, Pritzker said of the IFT’s request that school buildings be closed: “We’re always thinking about our schoolchildren and the parents and the teachers.”

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“We’ve made sure to set parameters that are safe, and we need schools to follow those parameters, and most are,” Pritzker said, adding that roughly 60% of Illinois students are receiving strictly remote instruction, with around 30% engaged in some form of hybrid learning.

“It’s not ideal by any means, but we have COVID storm that’s hitting, and I think that school districts are doing the best they can,” Pritzker said.

Short of an order from the governor, like the statewide schools shutdown last March, COVID-19 decisions continue to be made by school districts, in consultation with local public health departments, which monitor metrics and advise districts on the need to implement additional mitigation, a spokeswoman for the Illinois State Board of Education said.

But Montgomery said that varying interpretations of the health department’s recommendations among school districts has inadvertently led to, “a mishmash, with no uniformity.”

“You can have nine different scenarios happening at nine school districts that are right next to each other,” Montgomery said. “Most school districts want to do the right thing, but they’re getting no clear direction.”

Read our series: A surge in COVID cases being felt across the Midwest

Read our series: A surge in COVID cases being felt across the Midwest

Lee Enterprises newsrooms across the Midwest worked on a series of stories about the impact of COVID on health care, schools and business. Read the series here. 


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