School district accused of breaking federal law


DECATUR, Ill. (WCIA) — The Illinois State Board of Education is investigating the school district, saying it broke a federal law during the teaching assistant strike.

ISBE says the district violated the Federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act by not letting children with disabilities go to school during the strike. On the first day of the strike, 537 special needs students were kept out of school. All other students were allowed to go to class.

Meanwhile, uncertainty is running high among teaching assistants. On Thursday, they ended the three day strike and will return to the classrooms on Friday without a contract.

At a press conference on Thursday, Decatur Federation of Teaching Assistants President Paula Busboom said, “District 61 has weaponized health insurance as a means to bust the union.” Through months of contract negotiations, the school board and the union clashed on issues of pay and affordable health insurance.

Jon Nadler with the Illinois Federation of Teachers said, “How vicious can this board be? How low will they go to threaten the lives of members? They’re threatening to take away health insurance by pricing it out of our reach.”

At the last bargaining session the board made an offer with insurance hikes that the union says were not affordable. They went on strike on Tuesday. Then the school district said they would terminate those teaching assistants’ health insurance altogether, sending them into a whirlwind of uncertainty.

Busboom said, “I guess it’s ok that any of us could drop dead tomorrow and not have health care coverage. That shows our worth to them as individuals.”

On Thursday, the district said pay and benefits will continue if the teaching assistants go to work and all classes and programs will resume as usual on Friday.

ISBE says it’s reviewing this violation of the Federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and will be following up with the school district to determine potential consequences of further noncompliance.

The school district declined to comment on this accusation and the ending of the strike.

The union contacted the federal mediator to schedule next negotiation meeting with the board. No date has been set yet. With no contract, that means there is still a possibility teaching assistants could continue the strike later on.

Union representatives and members will be at the school board meeting on Tuesday November 5th. They’re asking people to show up wearing blue in support of teaching assistants.

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