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On Oct. 20, the Proviso Teachers’ Union filed an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge and a grievance against District 209 after being forced to return to what they say are unsafe school buildings despite an agreement with Superintendent James Henderson to allow them to continue to teach from home.

Almost 300 teachers were forced to return to the Proviso Math and Science Academy (PMSA), Proviso East and Proviso West on Oct. 20, in what the union said in a press release “was in direct violation of an agreement signed in August by the superintendent and the union, which allows teachers to provide instruction from remote locations while students are not in the buildings.”

In the release, union President Maggie Riley is quoted as saying, “We had no choice but to take action. Not only has the superintendent violated our agreement allowing remote instruction, when we complied with his illegal directive to work on site, we found that building conditions are not just unsafe, they’re inhumane.”

According to the press release, heat is not working at Proviso East, and temperatures in some rooms were reported to be as low as 56 degrees. Proviso East and West “have inadequate hot water for hand washing and cleaning.” PPE wasn’t readily available, and rooms had not been sanitized during the closure, according to the union.

Additionally, multiple questions about the ventilation system have still not been answered, said the press release.

The release also mentions high positivity rates in areas neighboring the schools, in some cases as high as 16.4 percent.

“Our union will not give up our reasonable demand to continue to teach safely from remote locations as the district assured us we could do,” said Riley. “This pandemic is worsening, not improving. Returning to buildings – especially ones that are not properly heated or cleaned – is dangerous and unwarranted. We will not tolerate the district’s apparent lack of concern for our safety.”

The union is awaiting a response from the district.

Nicole Wilson, Director of Communications for D209, said the following in a statement on Oct. 20: “We are focused on providing the highest quality education to all our students. Because our teachers have been working remotely, with limited resources, teachers will return to the classroom where they have access to administrative support, professional development and enhanced technology that increases student engagement and improves student outcomes. We will continue to work in tandem with our teachers to ensure our students’ success.”

 

In related news, D209 student Yirenny Cordero started a change.org petition urging the district to allow teachers to teach from home. As of 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 20, 692 people had signed it.

“While the risk for contracting COVID-19 from being in the buildings is minimal due to precautions being taken, the risk outweighs the benefit,” reads the petition. “The quality of our education isn’t changing in any way and may in fact be negatively affected.”