Missouri teachers’ unions urge statewide mask mandate;
Illinois teachers call on Gov. Pritzker to close schools
By TIM ROWDEN
The union representing St. Louis public school teachers, and the two largest unions representing teachers outside St. Louis, are urging Republican Gov. Mike Parson to issue a statewide mask mandate to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, continues to infect students, teachers, school staff and others in the community, forcing many districts to reevaluate or pull back on efforts to return to in-person learning.
Ray Cummings, interim president of the American Federation of Teachers St. Louis Local 420, says it’s time for Gov. Parson “to follow science and the advice of health care professionals” and issue a mask mandate.
The 35,000-member Missouri National Education Association (MNEA) and the 46,000-member Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA) have both expressed support for a statewide mask mandate.
Earlier this month, Parson, in conjunction with the Department of Health and Senior Services and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, outlined new guidance for mask wearing in schools, including a recommendation that if two people wear masks and one tests positive for COVID-19 then the exposed individual should self-monitor but need not go into quarantine, drawing a sharp rebuke from the teachers’ unions.
“As educators, student safety is our top priority. It should also be the top priority of our state’s leaders,” Missouri NEA President Phil Murray said. “The dangerous choice to allow people exposed to COVID-19 to remain in a school building jeopardizes children, educators, and families,” risking irreparable harm.
“Educators are frustrated that as health experts across the state sound the alarm of runaway COVID-19 cases filling hospitals, Governor Parson and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) would choose now to adopt this dangerous guidance,” Murray said
Bruce Moe, executive director of the MSTA, was even more blunt.
“Redefining close contacts to mitigate the need to quarantine isn’t a safety measure, it’s semantics,” Moe said. “This new definition contradicts recent guidance from the CDC which says plainly that, ‘the determination of close contact should generally be made irrespective of whether the contact was wearing respiratory PPE.’”
Missouri hospitals are filling fast with COVID-19 patients, and intensive care units throughout the state are nearing capacity. Last week, the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 250,000.
Parson has encouraged Missourians to take preventive steps, including wearing a mask, but has adamantly opposed a statewide mandate.
Missouri has tallied more than 265,000 COVID-19 infections and more than 3,581 deaths since the pandemic began.
Illinois has been even harder hit, recording more than 608,000 infections and more than 11,488 deaths –– with the highest numbers in and around Chicago.
ILLINOIS TEACHERS URGE GOVERNOR TO CLOSE SCHOOLS
The Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT) has asked Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker to close school buildings as infections surge.
IFT President Dan Montgomery also called on Pritzker and the state health department to “establish and enforce clear metrics for schools to guide them for any future closures, so that individual districts and school boards can ensure safety within their communities and create plans for executing remote learning or in-person instruction based on science and positivity rate data.”