Unprecedented and insulting random drug testing of teachers was demanded by the school board... Illinois Bluffs teachers ratify contract after brief strike

The 60 members of the Illini Bluffs Federation of Teachers, Local 3810, returned to work after ratifying a new three-year contract on August 29. IBFT members were forced to strike on August 17 when the Dist. 327 school board refused to continue negotiations and would not budge on their demand for costly, random drug testing for all teachers. The teachers received widespread community and union support throughout the strike, as well as positive editorial coverage from a major Peoria newspaper.

The board agreed to resume negotiations over the weekend of August 27 -28. A settlement was reached after a six-hour bargaining session.

Illini Bluffs teachers, including Jim Belville, left, Carrie Peters, center, and Gavin Graham, hold signs while picketing Wednesday (August 24, 2011) outside of Illini Bluffs Middle School. The teachers went on strike over the issue of random drug testing. The administration wanted to randomly test the teachers, while the teachers have offered to submit to testing if there is cause. The teachers carried signs responding to the insulting demand of their school board saying, "I am a role model." Photo by Peoria Journal Star.Details of the tentative agreement cannot be released until the board votes on it later this week, according to union officials.

Students returned to the opened school in the district on Tuesday, August 30.

The strike was the first in Illinois during the 2011 - 2012 school year. The union is part of the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT), which also includes the Chicago Teachers Union.

Although some teachers suspect that the demand for drug testing of teachers is part of the wider agenda of teacher bashing being pushed across the USA by corporate "school reform" interests, there was as of press time no evidence that the issue was being pushed by other school districts. Substance will be monitoring such attacks on teachers, which are often designed to attack the credibility of public schools and public school teachers, and have no relationship to the realities of the schools themselves.

According to an extensive article on August 31 in the Pekin Daily Times:

GLASFORD, Ill. — Illini Bluffs District 327 teachers approved a new contract Monday, leaving only one hurdle to be conquered before the labor dispute that delayed the start of school by almost three weeks officially ends.

The Illini Bluffs Federation of Teachers and a spokesman for the school district said Monday that representatives for the two sides had to work out the language of the contract before the teachers could vote on it Tuesday. However, things moved faster than expected.

“The contract language was drafted faster than expected and the teachers did decide to meet last night and they voted to ratify the contract,” Illinois Federation of Teachers Media Director Dave Comerford said in an email Tuesday. “We are now waiting on the board of education to schedule a meeting to vote and won’t comment until the board has ratified the contract.”

A woman at the district administration office confirmed the Board of Education will meet Thursday at 5 p.m. to vote on the deal.

Both sides refuse to disclose the deal’s details until the contract is approved by the school board and becomes public information. Before reaching the tentative agreement Sunday, both sides battled publicly for popular opinion.

The district issued multiple press releases claiming the teachers’ stance against random drug testing had a weak base, and the teachers pointed out no other teachers’ contract in Illinois allowed random drug testing. The teachers called the demand from the district a power play intended to weaken or break the union and held a well-attended community rally as well, at which State Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, spoke in support of the teachers.

Representatives of both sides said they had to make concessions, but it is unclear what kind of testing program teachers ultimately agreed to. They went on strike rather than accept random drug testing, but the district planned to open school on some basis this week with replacement teachers if the strike continued.

“When we left (Sunday) night both sides were mad, so it must have been a pretty good agreement,” Meurlot said Monday with a laugh. “When one side is happy then it’s usually an unfair deal.”

Students attended their first day of school Tuesday after teachers agreed to return to work as part of the tentative agreement.


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