Teachers union urges schools, colleges to shift to remote learning

  • Dan Montgomery, Illinois Federation of Teachers president

    Dan Montgomery, Illinois Federation of Teachers president

Updated 11/16/2020 7:13 PM

Illinois' second-largest teachers union is urging school districts, community colleges and universities to close buildings entirely and shift to or remain in full-time remote instruction with the statewide COVID-19 death toll at its highest since May.

Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery is calling on state officials to set a threshold that would trigger an automatic shift to remote learning. That would make it easier for local school boards and administrators who are getting a lot of pushback to close schools down again, he added.


"We'd like a little more clarity," Montgomery said. "We're calling for the governor and the Illinois State Board of Education to issue very clear metrics for how to move forward. In New York City, at 3% positivity rate schools go to remote instruction. Here, there is no consistency. Superintendents and school boards are telling us that they would like that certainty and clarity, as well."

IFT represents 103,000 teachers and paraprofessionals in prekindergarten through 12th-grade school districts as well as faculty and staff at Illinois' community colleges and universities, including College of Lake County, Elgin Community College, Harper College and McHenry County College.

Harper College in Palatine has been almost fully in remote mode this semester except for a few classes with labs, such as chemistry and HVAC. Even those labs will switch to being completely online starting Saturday, said David Richmond, history professor and president of Harper's faculty senate.

Harper's 210 full-time faculty members have been teaching remotely from the start. A limited number of students -- roughly 10% of the normal population -- were allowed on campus for labs at any given time.

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"We are still averaging almost one COVID case per day," Richmond said. "It's definitely been increasing for the last couple of weeks. All of our feeder districts have had to shut down (after trying hybrid classes). It looks like we are going to stay all remote in the spring."

Of the 235 educational institutions whose staff the union represents, 42 are operating fully in person, 13 have in-person classes for adults only, 68 have gone fully remote and 107 are offering blended learning, Montgomery said.

"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," Montgomery said. "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."

Montgomery said in some cases local unions have been able to work out issues with school leaders to do more testing and ensure safety.

"Although now, every county in Illinois is well over any kind of safe limit," Montgomery said. "We've had numerous outbreaks in schools ... we've had outbreaks and even deaths occur ... this is an extremely dangerous time that will get worse, and that is really the context of this."

Union leadership is willing to go to court or the labor board to redress any grievances, he added.

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