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The McHenry County Blog (MCB) posted the following Friday:

“From a Friend of McHenry County Blog:

This letter from BEA President was sent to union reps at a D220 elementary school. It was forwarded by those reps to reps at Countryside Elementary, who then forwarded it to all certified staff at Countryside on 9/21. In so doing, the email was accidentally sent to a parent. It is a perfect representation the BEA’s true feelings regarding returning teachers to the classrooms. 

Particularly offensive is the mention of IEA attorneys advising the BEA to stop pushing back and return to educating students yet abjectly dismissing this advice. Equally offensive is the acknowledgment of the district’s generosity in offering LOA for teachers, only then to provide recommendations meant to foil attempts to return to classrooms by instructing teachers to take FMLA. 

Parents need to understand the source of the problem with returning to classrooms and see it lies squarely with the BEA. 

The email from Barrington Education Association President follows:

‘Dear Members, 

I am so sorry that the accommodations are ending for you and in such a sudden way.  I apologize for not reaching out, but due to HIPPA, I do not have a list of who is working from home for medical reasons.  I know there are many questions and frustrations. I know you want the BEA to do more, but much of it is out of our hands.  The decisions are made above us.  We will continue to support you by making sure that procedures are correctly followed.  

Many want us to contact the IEA lawyers.  Trust me, we have consulted IEA.  This is sadly, a fairly common problem that individuals that are medically fragile have to navigate every year so IEA is all too familiar with the options.  I don’t think there is a reason we need to consult the lawyers at this time.  The district has the right to call you back to work.  They have provided an accommodation per the ADA for the beginning part of the year.  “Work from home” was a reasonable accommodation because it caused no undue hardship on the district.  At this point, to have kids in the building and to have you work from home does cause an undue hardship on the district because they will have to endure the cost of another teacher monitoring your class while you are working from home and kids are at school.  The law says they do not have to accommodate that.  That is why work from home is no longer a viable accommodation. If you need plexiglass or an N95 mask, or something like that, that would be considered an accommodation that doesn’t cause undue hardship.  If there are accommodations such as these which could make it possible to return to work, please discuss these with the HR staff when you talk to them.  

The decision to take FMLA or a leave of absence (LOA) is a difficult one. You probably are upset that there are no other options.  I know that is frustrating.  We are lucky the district is offering the LOA.  They do not have to.  They could have you resign or fire you if you do not return.  They are telling me that anyone who takes the leave, will be assured to have their job back next year.  I urge you to try for the FMLA.  I understand that this is subject to the note you bring in, but this option provides the most flexibility.  FMLA can be “undone” so if you start it and the district moves back into remote, then you can come back and save the rest of the FMLA.  It also saves you 3 months of paying for insurance.  

I understand the frustration you are feeling trying to make such a big decision not knowing what the future holds.  But the district is also trying to prepare for an unknown future and it has the task of staffing the schools.  Currently, about 20% of staff are working from home. This is a significant number.  They need weeks in order to find replacements for people who elect not to return.  They cannot trust that everyone will show up the next day when they say they will.  Additionally, the metrics need to be in place for 10 days before the district can move into the hybrid mode.  So they need the teachers on campus early so that we can meet that metric.  I know that this takes days away from your FMLA or wastes days you can teach from home, but that is why they are asking you to come in early.  Dr. Harris has set a start date of Oct. 26, but the Board and parents are pressuring him to move that date up, hence the 3 weeks.  

Last time I talked to the IEA lawyer, she told us we are in the business of educating kids and that we can’t keep pushing back. We have to try to find a way to make the hybrid work. I assure you the BEA is trying very hard to support you and make the best of this horrible situation, but we do not make the rules.  We respond to the district directives and right now the directive is to bring kids back into the buildings.  If the kids are here, the teachers need to be here.  It’s as simple as that.  I urge you all to talk to HR and discuss your unique situations.  Whatever decision you make, it is the right one.  You have to protect yourself and your families right now.  And this isn’t a done deal yet.  There is still time.  Should you choose not to come back, the district still needs to hire for your position.  Should they not be able to do that, they MAY come back to you and offer you “work from home.”  This is not what they want to do, but if they need to staff a specialized position, they may have to resort to it.  

So I know it sucks, but please take a deep breath.  The BEA has been working for all of our members and we will continue to do so. I know it is scary, but take it one day at a time.  Start with setting up a conference with Kris B.

Melissa’”

The MCB full post can be viewed here.

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