SPRINGFIELD – The following is a joint statement from Illinois Education Association President Kathi Griffin and Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery:
“Together, the Illinois Education Association and Illinois Federation of Teachers represent 238,000 employees in public and private schools, colleges and universities in the state of Illinois and in doing so we protect the safety of more than 2.5 million students. We believe that some types of in-person instruction can be achieved with health and safety mitigation in any individual community, but absent a practical safety plan that includes a clear line of responsibility and enforcement, we call for the 2020-21 school year to begin with remote learning.
We are working to ensure that any district providing in-person instruction in Illinois is prepared and able to abide by the safety measures outlined by the state, the federal government, and medical professionals. If those measures are not met, we will do everything we can to protect our students and those who care for them – teachers and professors, bus drivers, classroom aides, secretaries, building janitors and everyone in between. No avenue or action is off the table – the courts, the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board – nothing, including health and safety strikes. The entire weight of the IEA and the IFT will be used in whatever way is necessary to protect the students and the staff who educate them.
If a return-to-learning plan is not safe, we will act. Our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions. Unions were founded on workplace safety. The COVID-19 pandemic brings us back to our roots. This is the power of belonging to a union – to be able to collectively stand to protect those who need it – employees, students and their families. We especially need to protect those students who live in communities where health care is lacking, non-existent or unaffordable. We are in this together and we are in this to keep everyone healthy, safe and learning.
Since this pandemic began, our members have risen to the occasion. We rebuilt the public education system in a week. We delivered food and schoolwork, dove headfirst into remote learning, and did our best to provide normalcy and emotional support for our students. We miss them. We want to see them more than anything, but we want to do it safely.
For districts who have worked cooperatively with local union leadership, with the community and have successfully abided by all safety measures outlined in official guidance or made the decision to begin the academic year remotely, we commend and thank you.
We know we are stronger when we are united.”
The 135,000 member Illinois Education Association (IEA-NEA) is the state’s largest education employee’s organization. IEA represents preK-12 teachers outside of the city of Chicago and education support staff, higher education faculty, retired education employees and students preparing to become teachers, statewide.