CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — “Our school board refuses to come up with a plan,” One rallygoer said before the Champaign School Board meeting.
That’s what many teachers claimed tonight as they rallied before a tense school board meeting. Some teachers in Champaign are wearing thin. The union is poised to take a strike authorization vote on Wednesday and fighting back against a board proposal to add almost an hour to elementary school days.
People had signs, chanted with mega phones and more. The Champaign Federation of Teachers is trying to get the school board’s attention before they sit down for another bargaining session.
“We need a plan,” Rallygoer said. “Our families deserve a plan. Our students deserve a plan. Give us a plan!”
Teachers, parents and community members marched around the Mellon Building in Champaign. They want their voices to be heard.
“I don’t trust the Unit 4 administration and school board to have a suitable plan for the proposed extended day,” Grant Thomas, Champaign teacher, said.
Grant Thomas gathered with teachers at Barkstall Elementary School to protest, before joining others to rally before the school board meeting.
“There’s just a lot of mistrust between teachers and the school board and the administration because there doesn’t seem to be a lot of planning for what’s currently happening,” Thomas said.
The teachers say they want a plan put in place. They said it’s been difficult working through a pandemic and tensions are coming to a head after working for months without a contract.
“We put our kids at risk,” Rallygoer said. “We put our families at risk. It’s time to end this right now.”
“We’ve had people have their spouses volunteer to come in and sub,” Thomas said. “People are cleaning up their classrooms at the end of the day because the custodial staff is out.”
With staff levels already low, Thomas said teachers are stretched thin. Now, the board has proposed adding 50 extra minutes to the elementary school day. They say it would add time to lunch and recess, plus 30 minutes of instructional time. It would start in the 2023-2024 school year.
“I would kind of invite them to come see what the kids are like at the end of the day and they’re completely exhausted so we don’t think it’s developmentally appropriate to spend more time in the classroom,” Thomas said.
“Now our elementary colleagues are telling us in their expert opinion that they need a plan,” Rallygoer said. “That they need a plan before they agree to this idea.”
The board says their proposal stems from the state’s new “Right to Play” law. That law requires schools to have 30 minutes of recess. Thomas says students at Barkstall are already being given 30 minutes a day for recess, so this new proposal will just be adding more learning time and more work for teachers.
“So I don’t trust them to have a suitable plan for the future when there’s no suitable proposal and plan for the present,” Thomas said.
Teachers are hopeful they can negotiate with the board, otherwise they may vote in favor of authorizing a strike.
“It means we give our leadership the authority to do that and we know what the stakes are,” Thomas said. “I was trained as a picket captain a few years ago when we had another negotiation and so I mean I could totally have eyes open about this.”
The board meeting got intense with people also speaking up to the board. The board did not say much in response besides asking people to be respectful. They did release this statement:
“While we are engaged in bargaining with the CFT, we will not discuss the details of negotiations publicly beyond what the board of education communicated on the district website. We remain committed to working with CFT to reach a fair resolution.” – Stacey Moore, Champaign School District Chief Communications Officer, said.
We reached out to school districts around Central Illinois about the right to play law. Monticello, Mahomet, Urbana, and Springfield got back to us. All of them said they just made sure they had 30 minutes in the day for the kids to have recess.