Morton East Teachers, Students Discuss Return to Classrooms

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As some students at suburban Morton East High School returned to in-person learning on Tuesday, some teachers are criticizing the move as “premature,” arguing that the school district needs to do more work to keep educators, students and staff safe amid the coronavirus pandemic.

An estimated 20% of Morton’s students returned to the classroom Tuesday, but the teacher’s union filed a lawsuit against the district, saying the move is premature and that more needs to be done.

“We want the district to do what they agreed to do: to bargain to an agreement so that we have a safe working environment for our students, our members, our members’ families and our students’ families in the community,” Anthony Lacivita, president of IFT Local 571, said.

Teachers have expressed concerns over what they call a lack of proper ventilation in schools, and teachers have also criticized the district for not implementing enough metrics to help determine whether a move back to remote learning would be necessary in the coming months.

“There is concern among many of the members about their safety in the building,” Lacivita said.

According to a new national survey evaluating the priorities of teachers in returning to classrooms, 81% of teachers want schools to be sanitized on a regular basis, and another 67% want PPE to be available and required for teachers and students. At least 66% of survey respondents saw limited class sizes as key to a safe return to in-person learning.

The students that returned to classrooms on Tuesday say that they were eager to get back into that environment, saying that it is more conducive to learning than remote learning was.

“I chose this because I have got to focus more on my studies and get better grades,” student Melody Vivas said. “Because when I’m home, I am full of distractions and stuff.”

In a statement, Morton District 201 says that it is “working tirelessly to implement safety protocols” at schools, and that all of its policies line up with local, state and federal guidelines for a return to school.

Both the teachers’ union and the school district say they intend to continue negotiating over school protocols, and emphasized that they are both invested heavily in safely returning teachers and students to classrooms.

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