Pritzker Issues Stern Warning To School Districts Over Safety Guidelines

ILLINOIS — Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday told school districts to follow safety guidelines in the fall or face consequences.

“Good people with good intentions can disagree on how and when kids should go back to school,” Pritzker said during a news conference in Chicago. “But let me be clear, I wouldn’t let my own children return to a school where masks are not mandatory and serious effort hasn’t been made to keep students distanced during the day. This should not be controversial.”

The governor said school districts that don’t follow state public health guidance could face lawsuits and other liabilities.

“Any district that intends to disregard this guidance is gambling with the lives of our children, teachers and families,” Pritzker said. “Districts that don’t live up to public health guidelines and standards and don’t make a genuine attempt to protect their communities from this virus could be held liable in the courts by community members who are ill-affected.”

As the state’s more than 850 school districts put together plans for the fall semester, the Illinois Education Association released its own safety standards for districts that plan to offer in-person instruction.

“The Illinois Education Association believes, as do health experts, that it would be best for students to be learning in an in-person school environment when at all possible. In these times of global pandemic due to the novel coronavirus, however, the health and safety of our students and staff should be the primary concern and focus of all communities throughout our state and across the nation,” Illinois Education Association President Kathi Griffin said in a statement. “No one wants to return to school more than those who have chosen education as their profession, but it is also professional educators who understand better than anyone the impact a contagious disease can have on a school population.”

The Illinois Education Association is the state’s largest teacher union, representing 135,000 members, including teachers outside of the Chicago and education support staff, higher education faculty, retired education employees and those preparing to become teachers.

The association said that every school district should have policies regarding face coverings, social distancing, cleaning schedules, cleaning supplies, and providing personal protective equipment for all staff. It also said all health and safety policies should follow guidance from the American Academy of Pediatricians, the Illinois Department of Public Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Illinois State Board of Education.

The union called on educators to advocate for districts to have enforceable rules that are clearly outlined for students and staff members. Such policies should include a plan for enforcement before school buildings reopen, according to the statement.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has also called for in-person instruction this fall.

“Our shared goal should be to have students physically present in school this fall if at all possible,” American Academy of Pediatrics President Dr. Sally Goza said at a White House summit. “Missing school has lasting effects on children.”

More than $13 billion from the CARES Act has been dedicated to helping K-12 students enrolled in public, charter and private schools affected by the pandemic. Through the Treasury Department’s $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund, state and local governments have been announcing funding amounts distributed to help local school districts.

Some Illinois school districts have already announced plans for in-person instruction in the fall.

The Center Square – Brett Rowland

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