With just a few weeks to go before some schools are set to begin their fall semester, the Illinois Federation of Teachers issued a recommendation on Monday that called for students to begin the academic year learning remotely. It is part of a larger union statement on the new school year.
IFT President Dan Montgomery said the rising number of coronavirus cases is a a cause for concern.
“That is the safest and best option. It’s safest for the students and their faculties and it’s also the most practical,” he said.
Montgomery said some schools may be able to maintain safety measures like social distancing. "If that can happen, that's a good thing," said Montgomery. "That is an extremely rare occurrence in our experience."
Beth Anderson is a special education teacher in the Kankakee School District. She said schools can follow guidelines, but there’s no guarantee students won’t contract the virus.
“And that goes against the grain of who we are as educators," Anderson said. "We’re supposed to protect our students and keep them safe. And we know in this situation we can’t do that. We can only just mitigate the risk.”
Many teachers have indicated they are worried about the risks to them. Some instructors have health issues that make COVID-19 even more dangerous.
That doesn’t mean that having students learn from home is optimal. Montgomery said lack of broadband access is a problem for many locations. That showed up in the spring, when remote learning was ordered. There were also questions about how much work students were able to complete and what kind of assistance parents could provide.
Montgomery also said if the online approach is used in the fall, child care options would be needed for parents who work and the union is asking districts to find a solution.
The Illinois State Board of Education has strongly encouraged schools to reopen this fall. But public and private schools will have to follow certain guidelines -- like wearing of masks, social distancing and a stepped-up cleaning regimen -- designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. When it comes to how lesson plans are delivered, the state is giving more latitude to local districts.
Local schools throughout Illinois are beginning to offer up their plans for the fall.
Olivia Coleman, a high school teacher in East St. Louis, is concerned about having to enforce rules like mask wearing among students.
"I see adults who can’t do it in the store. And trying to get a child to do it for 5-8 hours a day is going to be very, very difficult," she said.
While making the recommendation for the fall, Montgomery said there are no plans for a strike if classrooms are open.