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Illinois Federation of Teachers responds to Gov. Pritzker’s back-to-school plan

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SPRINGFIELD (HOI) -- The Illinois Federation of Teachers released a statement in response to the state's plan for kindergarten through 12th grade students to return to the classrooms this fall.

Gov. JB Pritzker announced the plan Tuesday afternoon at a press conference, which calls for students to return with social distancing and sanitation guidelines. Pritzker also said the Illinois Emergency Protection Agency will be providing 2.5 million cloth masks to schools throughout the state to help preventative measures against the novel coronavirus.

The full statement by IFT President Kathi Griffin reads:

“The guidelines ISBE released today provide a road map as we return to in-person instruction, but they don’t address some of the most pressing concerns that make it difficult to social distance appropriately and monitor the health and well-being of all our education support staff, teachers and  students. We are especially concerned about the lack of personal protective equipment and providing a safe learning environment.

It is no secret that remote learning has been a challenge to teachers, parents and students and our membership looks forward to returning to in-person instruction, but anxiety remains high over class sizes and the lack of school nurses and other health and safety resources. We continue to be concerned about the deep disparities that exist in schools, especially in our Black and Brown communities, who still lack access to the internet and computers. We need to also consider our students who live in rural communities and their ability or lack-there-of to access information online. Parents, students and community members will feel safe returning to in-person instruction only when it is done safely by reducing class size and having a school nurse and necessary supplies in every school building.

Successfully incorporating the Illinois State Board of Education’s (ISBE) guidelines will depend largely on the labor management relationship and whether or not all the support staff, teachers and stakeholders have a real voice in determining what school looks like in our new normal.

We are committed to working with ISBE to help update the guidelines and give better guidance on what to do with crowded classrooms and schools, collective bargaining issues, and the lack of critical staff and resources such as school nurses and PPE. We are very much looking forward to working with our students, and we urge ISBE to assist every school in Illinois in getting the resources needed to keep every student and adult safe.

We are our students’ voice. It is imperative that as plans are developed for the year, we get a chance to ensure the safety of our students and our members, that some of our biggest concerns in this document are addressed, including resources and collective bargaining. We treasure the collaborative relationship we’ve had with ISBE throughout this pandemic and look forward to continuing our work together.”

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