More local teachers unions slam Winnebago County Health Administrator over COVID-19 comments

Local News

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Five more local teachers unions are uniting behind Rockford and Harlem teachers in condemning findings reported by Winnebago County Health Department Director Dr. Sandra Martell, who said it is teachers and staff who are spreading coronavirus in schools.

On Monday, Martell said there have been 69 positive cases of COVID-19 in 43 Rockford-area schools, consisting of 36 adults and 33 children. There are 438 people now under quarantine in the school system.

She said the average age of infections in school environments is 26-years-old, and warned that teachers and staff have not been diligently following mitigation guidelines to keep the coronavirus at bay.

Martell said students, by and large, have been wearing masks and seeing their school nurse if they have symptoms.

“The Hononegah Education Association, Kinnikinnick Education Association, Prairie Hill Federation of Teachers, Rockton Teachers’ Association, and Shirland Education Association are united in standing behind the Rockford Education Association and Harlem Federation of Teachers in our disappointment regarding your public statements towards educators. We are dismayed—in the face of a pandemic—that you would publicly blame the educators who are risking their health and the health of their loved ones to provide quality education to our community,” the groups said in a joint letter Wednesday.

“We are united in calling for the Winnebago County Health Department to address the following:

  • Implement clear thresholds for establishing an “adaptive pause.” This was previously discussed; however, your office keeps moving the target required in order to move all schools safely to remote learning.
  • Apply thorough and timely contact tracing within buildings to prevent further spread. This is absolutely critical for the safety of the entire school community, and it must be done accurately and quickly so that others are not needlessly put at risk.
  • Establish clear communication with administrators, teachers, students, and staff of possible exposure in their classes. All members of a class are not told that their classroom has been exposed to an individual who tested positive. This glaring lack of transparency has left all of us with an increased level of anxiety toward absences.
  • Convey accurate reporting of the amount of infection and quarantine.”

“Educators in our districts are going above and beyond in terribly trying and unprecedented times,” the letter continued. “In the midst of increasing community spread, we need the Winnebago County Health Department‘s support rather than criticism to ensure the health and safety of our staff and students.”

On Tuesday, Rockford Education Association President Mel Gilfillan and Vice President Chad Anderson sent a letter to Dr. Martell, which read:

“The Rockford Education Association will not stand by and allow you to cast blame on our educators. After hearing your statements from your 9/21 press conference, any concerns that you have with implementation of what teachers warned you repeatedly all summer was a flawed plan, we would ask that you take up with RPS Central Administration and the Rockford Public Schools Board of Education. We are appalled that you would publicly shame the women and men on the ground floor who are risking their health and the health of their loved ones to provide the monumental service of educating our community’s children in the face of a pandemic. Rockford educators are working tirelessly to implement with fidelity the district plan that you championed.”

The Harlem Federation of Teachers sent the following: “The Harlem Federation of Teachers stands with the Rockford Education Association in its statement of disappointment in your public stance toward educators in light of the pandemic. The Federation moves further to point out that we feel that the Winnebago County Health Department has been woefully underprepared to handle the scope of infection that a reopening of schools has triggered.”

Rockford area schools have been back in session for two weeks.

The health department released a list of 37 of the 43 schools with coronavirus infections on Monday afternoon:

  • Alpine Academy of Rockford
  • Boylan Catholic HS
  • Brookview Elementary School
  • Carlson Elementary School
  • College of Nursing – Rockford
  • Cherry Valley Elementary School
  • Dorothy Simon Elementary School
  • Eisenhower Middle School
  • Flinn Middle School
  • Franklin Middle School
  • Froberg Elementary
  • Guilford High School
  • Harlem Middle School
  • Hononegah High School
  • Jean McNair Elementary School
  • Jefferson High School
  • Kinninnick Grade School
  • Lathrop Elementary School
  • Ledgewood School
  • Lewis Lemon Elementary School
  • Marquette Elementary School
  • Montessori Private Academy
  • Olson Park
  • Parker Early Education Center
  • Rockford Environmental Science Academy
  • Rockford Iqra School
  • Rockford Lutheran Academy
  • RPS Administration
  • Rockford University
  • Rock Valley College
  • Rolling Green Elementary School
  • Roscoe Middle School
  • South Beloit High School
  • South Beloit Junior High School
  • St. Bridget Catholic School
  • Summerdale Elementary School
  • University of Illinois College of Medicine Rockford

Illinois Gov. JB Prtizker on Wednesday warned that Region 1 (which includes Rockford) in Illinois has continued to climb towards the 8% positivity rate threshold, sitting at 7.5% currently in the latest 7-day rolling average.

An 8% positivity rate would automatically trigger stricter mitigation efforts, including shuttering indoor restaurant and bar service, and imposing limiting public gatherings.


For more local news, download the MyStateline app (iOS) or (Android).

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram!

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Latest News Video

Trending Stories