SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Education Association (IEA) called for the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) to identify verified COVID-19 outbreaks in schools. The announcement comes after ProPublica Illinois revealed in a story published today that while Illinois public health officials have identified COVID-19 outbreaks in at least 44 school buildings, they won’t disclose where those buildings are and that they may not know the full picture of how the virus has spread.
At least 105 students and 73 staff have been affected, according IDPH. However, state numbers show that between Aug. 15, when schools started to reopen around the state, and Oct. 2, when ProPublica ended its inquiry, nearly 8,700 children in Illinois between the ages of 5 and 17 tested positive – about 180 kids per day – more than double the amount being infected prior to schools reopening, which averaged 72.
“From the start, we have said schools should only open if they can do so safely – with all the appropriate safety precautions in place – and knowledge of an outbreak in a school building absolutely meets that criteria,” said Kathi Griffin, president of the Illinois Education Association. “The number one goal of everyone should be the health and safety of students and those who educate and care for them.”
IDPH defines an outbreak as two or more confirmed cases within 14 days of the start of symptoms in people who do not share a household and did not have close contact in another setting.
“We know there are districts in our state that are being very good about notifying public health officials, staff and families when there are cases and that keeps communities safe,” Griffin said. “But we also know there are districts that aren’t. And, when those cases are kept in the dark, the appropriate people can’t quarantine. The infection spreads. Students, staff and communities are put in harm’s way. Everyone is struggling on how to handle this, but transparency is key.”
According to the Illinois State Board of Education’s map, which was last updated on Sept. 21, 685,000 Illinois students are attending school in person, at least part time, in 69 percent of the state’s school districts. The other 31 percent of districts account for 1.2 million students who continue to learn remotely. Though, many districts are contemplating returning to the classroom in the coming weeks.
“How is a community supposed to decide whether to return to the classroom if they don’t know the true impact this is having across the state? Health officials inform communities when nursing homes or jails have outbreaks because it impacts those who live and work there. Certainly, communities are entitled to know about outbreaks at schools. It shouldn’t even be a question,” Griffin said.
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.