The Illinois Federation of Teachers is pushing a bill through the legislature that would force all schools, public and private, to follow strict guidelines for resuming in-person instruction. It would give authority to the state’s public health department to set standards and requirements for schools even after the governor’s state of emergency is lifted and the pandemic has ended. There will be no expiration date for the protocols.
The bill is being opposed by both private parochial schools and Chicago Public Schools, along with the state board of education. It promises to make public and private schools subject to state rather than local control.
The bill amends the Department of Public Health Powers and Duties Law of the state’s Civil Administrative Code to require IDPH to establish rules governing such things as personal protective equipment, cleaning and hygiene, social distancing, occupancy limits, symptom screening, and protocols for isolating sick students and staff at school.
IDPH is charged with disseminating information about the requirements to schools with the help of the Illinois State Board of Education. IDPH, along with local health departments, must enforce the rules by investigating complaints about noncompliant schools and taking action such as closing lunchrooms, libraries, classrooms, or any other spaces in the schools until any violations have been remedied.
The bill also amends the Illinois School Code to make offering in-person instruction contingent on a school’s meeting all the criteria to be developed by IDPH.
Not surprisingly, there has been a lot of pushback from private religious schools concerned that the new law would take away much of their independence.
The superintendent of Lutheran Schools of Central Illinois is one of the private school leaders to have publicly voiced concerns over the proposal for permanent new standards to be developed by IDPH under HB 2789. Trip Rodgers told FOX Illinois the schools under his jurisdiction already follow state and local health department advice, and that one-size-fits-all rules from Springfield might not take into account relevant differences among schools. He further questioned whether schools will have input into the formulation of the guidelines and worried this bill could “prevent schools from being in session and educating our children.”
Springfield Christian School put out a statement that noted it “work[s] closely with the local health department and local medical experts and ha[s] been one of the few schools to remain open for full-time, in-person instruction … every day” and that it is “directly accountable to our families” who “wouldn’t send their children here if it were unsafe.”
Chicago schools were involved in a long, protracted war with the local teachers union over standards and protocols to reopen schools. But the law would erase those rules and substitute even more stringent requirements for in-person instruction. That’s why CPS is opposing the bill in the state Senate.
A law that removes local control over such critical issues as in-person instruction has to be resisted. But the teachers in Illinois have proven their power in the past and want their stamp of approval on any effort to reopen schools statewide.