A VERSION OF THE MESSAGE BELOW HAS BEEN SENT TO OUR COMMUNITY LEADERS. IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO READ THOSE MESSAGES, EACH OF THEM ARE LINKED HERE.
A Message to Chairman John McIntyre and members of the McLean County Board
A Message to Mayor Tari Renner and the Bloomington City Council
A Message to Mayor Chris Koos and the Normal Town Council
Like all of you, UFEA and UFSPA leadership are observing what’s occurring in our community, and we find the trends troubling.
COVID-19 cases continue to rise, our healthcare system is seeing a surge, the stories of individuals impacted by the pandemic are heartbreaking, and the data continue to suggest community spread is substantial and increasing.
From the beginning of this pandemic, our message to the district has been simple and straightforward — we want to be involved in the decision-making process when those decisions impact our members and students, and we believe decisions need to prioritize the health and safety of students, families and staff.
Our message to our students and their families has stayed the same — we care about our students and we want to be with them, safely in-person at school, and when that is not possible we are willing to do everything we can to continue to support their growth and learning.
And we’ve communicated a consistent message to our community — educating the students of our community is our job, but doing it during a pandemic is a community effort and we can’t do it without you.
Being a decision-maker right now is a difficult task. The district’s leadership is in a tough position as they navigate how to provide the best possible learning environment considering all of the factors in front of them. Those decisions are made even more difficult due to a lack of timely, consistent data from the McLean County Health Department and harder still recognizing that regardless of the decision some of those impacted by the decision — students, families, staff and the community — will be unhappy.
Despite the difficulty, the district needs to make a decision. They should make that decision sooner rather than later, they should be transparent in their decision-making, and they should communicate clearly and often throughout the process.
At this point, the only decision that prioritizes the health and safety of staff and students is to return to Remote Learning until we’ve collectively taken the steps necessary to control community spread and create an environment where returning to school in-person is safe for those of us who work there and the students we care about who learn there.
We Know …
Community spread is substantial.
Several districts in our area, including District 87, have already made decisions regarding the coming weeks.
The metrics Unit 5 is monitoring, including those in McLean County and Illinois, are trending in a troubling direction.
The contract tracing data Unit 5 is using seems to indicate the protocols, precautions and procedures in place in our schools are limiting the spread within our schools. Yet, despite everything the district has been doing and the fact that exposure and infection seem to be limited within the school setting, community spread continues to rise.
The number of staff and students required to quarantine is growing. There are significant staffing issues — unfilled jobs and insufficient substitutes. And we know there would be even more staffing issues if we didn’t have current staff pulling double duty and covering classes for each other.
The workload on staff is increasing and the burnout is real. Across the state, IEA members are expressing similar concerns.
We Don’t Know…
An accurate and complete picture of current COVID numbers.
Demand for testing has increased, and many are waiting longer for results. Further, it’s our understanding the McLean County Health Department does not have the capacity to provide timely, current data to the district.
The district must rely on data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, which usually runs a week behind. Generally, IDPH data is received by the district each Friday around noon — and that data is from the prior week meaning it’s 5-10 days old.
What will happen in the coming weeks.
Despite recent recommendations from IDPH to work from home when possible, participate only in essential activities, and limit travel and gatherings, it’s hard to know what decisions individuals and families will make during Thanksgiving or winter break, and what impact those decisions will have on our schools and the community.
The right answer.
Perhaps the most difficult part of the pandemic is that it’s hard to know the right answer. There are benefits and risks regardless of what decision is made. And our membership, much like the community at large, has held a variety of very strong and mixed opinions regarding remote, hybrid and in-person learning. UFEA and UFSPA leadership have attempted to reflect those varied interests and perspectives as effectively as possible, amplifying the voices of members when speaking with the district and trying to represent the collective interests of more than 1,300 members while considering there are indeed more than 1,300 individual interests. It has not always been an easy task. And, it likely will not be easy until we have more certainty — a consistent and coherent national testing and tracing strategy, trustworthy therapeutics and/or a reliable, readily available vaccine.
The district should be open and transparent with their decision-making. They should communicate clearly and often with staff, students, families and the community. They should continue to rely on the best information available to them, and they should prioritize the health and safety of staff and students.
The McLean County Board should immediately take whatever steps are necessary to provide the McLean County Health Department with the resources they need to monitor COVID-19 in the community and provide timely, relevant data to decision-makers like Unit 5.
Community leaders should come together to provide common guidance and clear expectations for the community.
As much as possible, Unit 5 should be working with other local school districts — especially District 87 — to coordinate plans and communication.
Staff, students and families should follow the guidance of community leaders and the recommendations of the IDPH, especially in the coming weeks. The only way our schools can remain open safely and consistently for in-person learning is if community spread is reduced and remains at a safe level. We need everyone in the community to wash their hands, watch their distance, wear their masks, stay home whenever they can (and especially if they aren’t feeling well) and get tested if they have symptoms or have reason for concern. Everyone needs to limit travel and gatherings.
This requires a community effort. Educating the students of our community is our job, but doing it during a pandemic is a community effort and we can’t do it without you.
In the meantime, Unit 5 needs to make a decision. While we are waiting for data, we can all see the trends. And those trends should concern us all.
We all want to be in our schools with our students, safely. Hybrid and remote learning are not ideal. But, we must prioritize the health and safety of staff and students. A return to Remote Learning is necessary until we’ve collectively taken the steps necessary to control community spread and create an environment where returning to school in-person is safe for those of us who work there and the students we care about who learn there.
I agree! I’m awaiting my own results at this time, and am an administrative assistant in a junior high school! This is getting so bad and truly scary!! 😢
Karen O’Dea says
If the district returns to remote learning in the near future, why would Special Education classes (Level 1, 2 and 3) staff members be required to work in person?
Why is our safety less important than others?
The District’s decision Friday was for *all* students to be in Remote Learning through December 4 at least.
Barbara Torres says
I agree that remote learning is the way we are headed shortly but I am wondering why it will be ok for levels 1,2& 3 classes from pre-K up to remain in person while everyone else is remote??? Isn’t the safety of those staff just as important as all the other staff?
The District’s decision Friday was for *all* students to be in Remote Learning through December 4 at least.
Darlene Vickers says
I totally agree with all the information mentioned above. Yes, the students need to be in-person learning but our health is more important. I too believe we should go remote until this pandemic is under control because people in the community are not doing their part to stop/control the spread of COVID19. Families all around us are being affected by this virus and one way to keep the numbers down is to stay home whenever possible, wear your mask, wash hands often, and encourage other to do the same.
Again, I love and miss the students but my health , my families health, and many others are at risk on a daily basis. I say lets go remote!!!
Geralyn P Miskulin says
I must admit that I am deeply concerned for my health and the health of my immediate family at this current time. It is difficult to make the best decision for all students especially special needs. But I truly would like for UNIT 5 to take the rest on November off immediately and evaluate going further on December 1st.Thanksgiving will be a horrific time for Covid 19 spreading with many families choosing to not follow recommended guidelines.
Sherrilyn McAndrews says
As you can imagine, we are all thinking about the potential for the district to take a step back in the return to person plan. As they very specifically and intentionally wrote into that plan, the Specialized Services programs will stay in person while the rest of the district goes back to full remote. We noticed that Dr. Weilke also said how it looks like “most” staff will be going remote soon based on metrics. We are aware we would not be included in that most.
Can you tell me why people are reporting that the union agreed to that for us? Also, when and if the district tells “most” staff members and students to stay home and we are expected to come in how can you support us not coming in and risking the safety of our programs staff and students?
Of course we all want to be in schools with all our students in person – safely. But that doesn’t seem possible right now. So, the union’s position right now, as articulated in the statement shared with the board, administration, members and public, is that Remote Learning seems to be the right decision for right now for *all staff and students*. And it should be that way until we can collectively work to bring down community spread to a safe level.
The district administration may have delivered a different message, and they may have different plans.
And if and when they ultimately make a decision, UFSPA will have to respond to that decision and potentially demand to bargain the impact of that decision.
We aren’t sure why people are reporting the union agreed to some people being in-person even if the district moves to Remote Learning.
First, that’s an inaccurate statement as we’ve never been in a position to agree to such a decision.
Secondly, the district *can* direct work and make decisions such as that without our agreement. If they previously made such a decision or plan to make such a decision moving forward, it has not been with UFSPA’s (or UFEA’s) agreement. There are decisions that get made which we don’t have control over, but that should not be perceived (or communicated) as agreement.
If and when the district makes a decision about learning format moving forward, we will want to hear from any impacted members so we can accurately advocate for their interests and represent their views and voices.
You can imagine that over the past several months it has been difficult to balance the interests of members while also doing everything possible to protect people and positions. Those challenges will continue.
Lisa Legner says
I am unclear how the October plan stating that special education would continue while the rest of the district is remote without union involvement. I work in a ECE level 2 classroom. When the rest of the district was remote, we were hybrid with students attending in person 2 days a week. When the district opened the hybrid option for regular education, our students began to attend 4 days a week. I do not understand why if the district rolls back to remote why we don’t roll back to hybrid with students attending 2 days a week as we did before. I am also very concerned since the positivity rate is so much higher now than it was in August. I feel we have been treated with inequity, putting in much more work time in person than Paras are putting in remote. I do not feel valued as a professional by the district and actually feel as if my life itself is being devalued. Our population can not wear masks, it is impossible to socially distance due to needs and we consistently handle bodily fluids daily, including drool , diaper changing and sometimes even blood. I totally understand that it is stress on families to provide hands on when involved in remote learning but there needs to be a point where our health risks are considered and as valued as those working with traditional education.
There is a difference between agreement and involvement. When we have been given the opportunity to provide input, we have. When there have been items that have required our agreement through bargaining, we’ve bargained those. Most of the issues related to learning — remote, hybrid, in-person — are not issues that the district is required to bargain with us. Sometimes they’ve included us in discussion and we’ve had a chance to provide input. Sometimes they’ve listened to our ideas and input, and sometimes they’ve made decisions that aren’t consistent with our ideas and input.
By now you’ve likely seen the District’s announcement from Friday that we are moving to Remote Learning for all students later this week. If and when the District determines they’re going to consider a different format — hybrid or in-person — we will continue to advocate that we are part of those discussions and continue to want to hear from members regarding their interests, needs and questions so we can represent members and advocate as effectively as possible.