The return of students to school every fall is supposed to be an exciting time, replete with the promises of new opportunities for learning and growth. However, in the midst of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, many teachers are preparing more than just their lesson plans as they return to the classroom this year – many are preparing their wills. As one teacher said, “I never would have thought when I become a teacher, I would need to get a will in place in order to go back to work.”
Unfortunately, the approach to school safety has been far from uniform – individual school districts themselves are largely responsible for determining whether and how they will open, and in what capacity. This can create fairly drastic variations from district to district, and some districts have had multiple iterations of re-opening plans or completely reversed course from in-person to remote learning. Some school districts have still pressed forward with in-person education despite explosions of COVID cases. For example, a photo from a Georgia high school recently went viral, showing a crowded hallway filled with teens not wearing masks. Predictably, the school reached over 35 positive cases, but the district is not completely abandoning in-person instruction.
Illinois is not immune to such variation from district to district. Chicago Public Schools is beginning the school year at home and plans to transition back to hybrid learning at an indeterminate point in the future. Waukegan, Rockford, and Bloomington schools are likewise starting the year with remote learning. On the contrary, the Archdiocese of Chicago has announced that schools would be reopening for in-person instruction.
For those teachers who work in districts that are returning to full in-person instruction, this all ultimately means is that in addition to the incredible daily challenges teachers already face, they have the specter of a life-threatening illness looming over their heads. This is not purely a hypothetical problem. Districts are forcing them to choose between working a selfless, thankless, and noble job, or their lives. For teachers with pre-existing conditions, this is an especially difficult time. One longtime Archdiocese of Chicago teacher in Wilmette recently lost her job when she failed to report back to work out of concern over the reopening plan. As the spouse of a cancer survivor, she emphasized that “this is life and death for me.”
Teachers who get sick at work from COVID at work have rights. Katz Friedman is currently representing many injured teachers in work accident cases against their employers and will continue to investigate claims being made by essential workers whether it takes place from slipping, falling, or contracting COVID-19. When making decisions regarding a work injury sustained while working as a teacher, it is wise to consult an attorney to protect your interests because it is clear that your employer already has their lawyers working trying to defeat your claim. If you or someone you know is an essential worker and suffers from COVID-19, the attorneys and staff of Katz Friedman are here to help with obtaining proper compensation.