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Teachers Demand Switch To Remote Learning At Chicago Archdiocese Schools Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Some Chicago Catholic school teachers are demanding an end to in-school learning, at least near-term.

As CBS 2's Jeremy Ross reported, the teachers said they do not feel safe amid the coronavirus pandemic, and they want church leaders to change course in only a matter of days.

The educators said if the flagship school the University of Notre Dame had to stop in-school instruction because of COVID-19, how will their schools be able to pull in-person instruction off?

The question is striking fear in some.

"Teachers are terrified," one teacher said.

"It puts human life in jeopardy," said another, James Cahill. "Infection numbers are rising. Must we wait for a further outbreak to take action?"

"How many catholic schoolteachers dying of COVID is an acceptable loss?" a third teacher said.

Teachers said they have heard about the worries of hundreds of other educators from dozens of Chicago Archdiocese schools. They demand that all Archdiocese schools begin remote learning, and teachers like Cahill be a more important part of the reopening process.

"Now is the wrong time to gather hundreds of human beings into enclosed spaces," Cahill said.

Ross asked Cahill if there could be repercussions for his speaking out.

"There could be, and I wouldn't be speaking out if I wasn't ready to face them," Cahill said.

The Archdiocese said they place the health and safety of students and employees above all else. More than 70 schools successfully opened this week.

Ross earlier this week visited the Queen of the Rosary School in Elk Grove Village. The precautions in place there include desk-cleaning routines, temperature checks, and a switch to forward-facing desks separated by six feet as norms.

Hallways look like divided one-way highways to control traffic flow, and desks that cannot be separated by six feet have plastic shielding.

"I don't consider it to be good enough," Cahill said. "I'm not a scientist. I don't know how much a Plexiglas shield is going to protect a student sitting in the front row."

Concerned parents and teachers demand all schools halt in-person learning by noon next Tuesday.

"Students belong in the classroom – yes, undoubtedly, but not right now," Cahill said.

This was the Chicago Archdiocese's full statement on the issue:

"The Archdiocese of Chicago created a reopening plan for its schools that places the health and safety of our students, teacher and employees above all else. It meets the strict Illinois Department of Public Health requirements and was developed with input from all of our stakeholders, including teachers as well as public health authorities and medical experts. As the school year progresses, we will continue to follow the guidance of authorities, monitor compliance with the plan and make adjustments accordingly.

"The Office of Catholic Schools employs more than 5,000 in administrative, teaching and staff positions. They have worked together to respond to this extraordinary challenge and continue our education mission. The opening of more than 70 schools this week has been greeted with enthusiasm by our families, students and teachers. The mixture of in-person and on-line learning they offer differs from school to school and responds to parent choice. If families choose remote learning, they are accommodated.

"Our Office of Catholic School has repeatedly directed employees with concerns to speak with their principals or send their concerns to the Archdiocese for response. We have diligently responded to principal and employee concerns brought to our attention. However, we cannot accommodate all requests. Given the preference of a majority of families for in-person learning, remote teaching opportunities are limited. To the extent possible, teachers who choose to work remotely are accommodated either at their original school or by applying to another school with remote teaching opportunities."

It was unclear Thursday night what the protesting teachers and families would do if their demands are not accepted.

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