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Many Alarmed As Nearly 50 Zion Teachers, Staff Quit Just Before School Starts

ZION, Ill. (CBS) -- Nearly 50 teachers and staff in far north suburban Zion have handed in their resignations just days before the start of school.

As CBS 2's Charlie De Mar reported Tuesday night, some former educators in the district call the teaching environment toxic.

"My heart is in Zion," said Valerie Lampinen. "My heart is with the community."

Lampinen retired from Zion Elementary District 6 last year, after teaching for more than 30 years.

"During my time there, it's always been a close district, close staff – really feels like a family," she said.

But Lampinen and Lynn Butera, who is also retired, are concerned after at least 48 teachers, support staff, and office employees called it quits. Their resignations were accepted at a board meeting Monday – just days before the start of school.

"It's about the climate and culture, and the climate and culture has become very toxic," Butera said.

The school district said the resignations are part of the ebb and flow of staffing. But the two retired educators said the administration has created a tough working environment.

Some of the current teachers we spoke to declined to go on camera.

"They're very nervous. They're very stressed out. They're very worried, and it's really – worried about the kids, and worried about will there be enough supports in place?" Lampinen said.

Meanwhile, the resignations are also raising questions for some parents.

"It's a little unfortunate, but I hope that they get more workers; more teachers there; get more people on the team," said Tiara Jones.

Butera said the Zion teachers of today do not have the same sense of camaraderie at work that she and Lampinen did.

"They are lacking that support, and they are lacking a family feel that they are lacking the ability to get the job done," Butera said.

District spokeswoman Donelle Staples released the following statement in response to the issue:

"On August 19, 2019, our Board of Education approved a number of routine personnel actions, typical of the ebb-and-flow of a school district. These resignations, medical leaves and a number of retirements were received over the past several months from teachers, support staff and office personnel.

"As the District enters the third year of a comprehensive effort to improve our culture of teaching and learning and drive student achievement, we look forward to the start of the school year on Monday, August 26. Our core instructional classrooms will be staffed and ready with certified teachers. Additionally we are proud that we are fully staffed to rollout our new dual language program for PreK and Kindergarten students as well as our full and half-day preschool program."

Zion Education Association President Robin Denil also released a statement:

"The Zion Education Association (ZEA) is deeply concerned about the recent resignation of nearly 50 teachers from the Zion School District. We recognize both the teachers and support staff who have tendered their resignation have left Zion District #6 for a variety of personal reasons.

"As educators, dedicated to high quality public education – the ZEA is committed to working with district officials to not only attract quality applicants, but to also retain them and celebrate them for their efforts.

"We are in the middle of a statewide teacher shortage and it's becoming increasingly difficult to keep talented staff in districts with less funding like Zion.

"The ZEA continues to value and respect all of our students. We remain committed and dedicated to providing the high quality education our students deserve."

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