The Illinois Federation of Teachers, which represents more than 100,000 educators across the state, is calling for remote learning when school re-opens in the fall.

In a video news conference this mornig, IFT President Dan Montgomery said “we’re in the worst crisis in at least 100 years” due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Montgomery, who was a classroom teacher at Niles North High School in Skokie before becoming union president, said, “As much as anybody, we want to be back with our students.” However,  Montgomery said, “At this time, the safest and best option” for teachers, staff, students, and their families is to keep classes online.

Evanston District 202 and Evanston-Skokie District 65 are not IFT-affiliated. Teachers’ unions in those districts are members of the National Education Association, the other large nationwide teachers’ organization.

District 202’s Evanston Township High School will be in remote learning when school opens Aug. 17 and will continue that way until coronavirus circumstances allow for a change.  District 65, pre-K through grade 8, will release its’ reopening plan on Wednesday.

Teachers at the 2200-student Niles North High School are IFT-represented. Pankaj Sharma, a history teacher at Niles North and also vice-president of the Niles North local, also participated in the video news conference.

He said, “We strongly believe we cannot have in-person learning.” He added that studies show children 10-years-of-age and older can transmit COVID-19 as easily as can adults.

At this point, Niles North will use remote learning for all students when school begins. Then, after Labor Day, there will be a phased return to the classroom, beginning with students who require more in-person instruction, such as those in special education or English-language learners. More details are yet to come on what will happen with the rest of the school.

The IFT said it is possible some very small schools might be able to re-open their buildings this fall if they can socially distance their students and have enough masks.

However, union president Montgomery said that would be the exception. He also said there needs to be state and federal assistance to set up safe child care centers because many parents need to return to work.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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