Teachers union vows to keep chasing health rules for Illinois private schools
After nearly 17,000 Illinois parents opposed a bill to impose state health mandates on private schools, and state lawmakers let the effort sit, it seemed the fight was over. Not quite. A teachers union lead lobbyist pledged to keep pursuing it.
Nearly 17,000 Illinoisans made it clear they did not want over-reaching state health rules governing their private and public schools, and state lawmakers appeared to listen as they left the union-backed House Bill 2789 on hold as they adjourned.
Now a top teacher union lobbyist is promising the bill created by the Illinois Education Association will return as a priority.
“Unfortunately, due to a very, very well coordinated misinformation campaign, House Bill 2789 did in fact stall,” Sean Denny, IEA director of government relations, said in a video. “However, I want to assure everyone that we are going to continue pushing that issue. We’re going to continue pushing it during veto session in November and December.”
The bill would require the Illinois Department of Public Health to set rules for in-person instruction at public as well as at private schools. State rules would govern masks, cleaning, occupancy, social distancing and handling of positive cases. It would give the state the power to shut down private as well as public schools, taking away the local health department control used during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Private schools were able to safely keep students in classrooms during the pandemic while many teachers unions fought to keep public schools closed. Opponents saw HB 2789 as a power play by public unions and as punishment for schools that had served parents and students well through a global pandemic. Plus, the proposed rules defied direct guidance from federal health officials who said young students rarely transmitted the virus when proper protocols were in place.
“The end result of this language is that private schools could have any of their facilities shut down by state authorities,” said state Sen. Donald DeWitte, R-West Dundee. “My private schools had a stellar record, many even stayed open. I’d hate to compare that record with the public schools – many of whom told me they had no guidance at all.”
HB 2789 drew increased criticism from opponents after Senate testimony May 27 by Amanda Elliot, executive director of legislative affairs at the Illinois State Board of Education, revealed teachers’ unions had been driving the bill forward.
“We’ve been working with Illinois Education Association for several weeks to ensure student safety no matter the learning environment,” Elliott said.
That testimony exposed teachers’ unions unmatched access to state leaders in determining the future of rules that would affect both public and private schools. Private schools and parents were not even invited to participate.
After parents filed overwhelming opposition to HB 2789, protested repeatedly at the Statehouse and showered lawmakers with thousands of calls and emails, it seemed lawmakers had heard them and killed the bill.
The teachers unions have not given up. Neither can Illinois parents who want their children in the classroom and want the state out of their private schools.