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Crystal Lake-based School District 155 reaches deals with teachers union for more flexibility in remote teaching

Teachers at Crystal Lake-based Community High School District 155 will have more flexibility in teaching remotely after the school board Tuesday approved a series of agreements between the district and its two unions.

The agreements were made with the High School District 155 Education Association, which covers teachers and other certified staff, and the Community High Education Support Staff, which represents a host of positions, including secretaries, paraprofessionals, aides, clerks, custodians and maintenance staff.

The aim of the agreements is to provide teachers more flexibility in where they can teach while also allowing support staff to help fill in any supervising gaps that are created, particularly because of a shortage of substitute teachers, according to the agreements approved Tuesday.

Officials involved in the agreements said they expect them to last for three weeks.

The agreements were the result of masks becoming optional for staff and students after a temporary restraining order issued Feb. 4 by a Sangamon County judge, officials said. After an appellate court ruled late Thursday that indoor mask policies had expired and therefore questions about its enforcement were now moot, officials with District 155 said the agreements will remain in effect.

The agreement with the teachers union allows teachers in the district to teach remotely under certain circumstances, such as after testing positive or having somebody in their household who is sick with COVID-19, according to a copy of the memorandum. Other criteria include the teacher being excluded from school for being a “close contact,” or if they are caring for their child during a time when the child’s school is delayed or closed because of COVID-19.

There also is a provision that allows for them to remain home if another household member has a medical condition that puts them at high risk for complications if they contract COVID-19, based on the district’s discretion. The policy also creates flexibility for how teachers, under certain circumstances, can use leave benefits in addition to working remotely.

The agreement allows District 155 to double internal substitute work, adding up to five more periods of work.

The other agreement, which deals specifically with the district’s support staff, creates parameters for those employees to step in and supervise classes in the event a teacher must work remotely.

The district would first look at internal substitute teachers to fill the gaps, district officials said, but the agreement ensures there will be supervision in any classrooms with remote teachers.

Support staff who help cover classes with remote teachers will receive $10 more per class period over their regular pay, according to a copy of the agreement. Employees don’t have to participate and instead have the option to sign up for it. Employees also can forgo their lunch period to provide coverage, for which they’ll receive a $25 stipend.

“It’s a team effort to keep our kids in school and to keep our schools open,” District 155 spokeswoman Shannon Podzimek said in an email.

Devin Hester, president of the District 155 teachers union, said they started negotiating and planning the first agreement for teachers in advance of the temporary restraining order so they wouldn’t be “caught flat-footed” depending on the judge’s ruling. He said he had no concerns about the agreement since it was designed to be narrow in scope.

Although officials are hoping the agreements will not be needed very much, Podzimek said some teachers already have used the provisions in the memorandums of understanding.

“I’m glad that we created that safety net to protect people and keep our schools running smoothly,” Hester said in an email.

Officials with the Community High Education Support Staff union could not be reached for comment.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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