Nearly 100 parents in Brookfield-LaGrange Park School District 95 are advocating for a return to full-day, in-person instruction as soon as possible. Four of those parents spoke to the school board during the public comment portion of the board’s Feb. 11 meeting.
“Our students need more,” said Kate Perek the mother of a third-, sixth- and eighth- grader. “We are nearing a year without regular instruction, and these kids are at incredible risk of falling behind socially, emotionally and academically.”
Under District 95’s hybrid option, students attend school in person for 2.5 hours a day five days a week. That’s not enough, Perek said.
“My third-grader is dismissed at 10:30 and has zero academic accountability for the rest of the day,” said Perek, who added she was dismayed that enrichment math was confined to watching videos.
Perek said that if full-day instruction was not possible right away, the district should consider lengthening the school day, combining some full days and half days or having a five-hour school day without lunch.
“There will always be risks, but let’s plan based on facts and not fear,” Perek said. “COVID is expected to be part of our lives for years at minimum, and our kids don’t have years.”
Melissa Bisleupic, the president of the S.E. Gross Middle School Parent Teacher Organization, is a nurse who works as an infection preventionist and is responsible for 40 long-term care and assistant living facilities across four states.
She, too, pushed for a return to full-day instruction when possible. Bisleupic said more is known about COVID than was known last summer, when the hybrid plan was developed.
“Schools have not been shown to be superspreader locations and they mirror community spread,” Bisleupic said. “Together we can develop a comprehensive plan that uses science and mitigation strategy to transition our staff and children to an in-person, full-time model.”
Bisleupic and the other parents advocating for more in-person instruction called upon district officials to survey families about their wishes and risk tolerance and to form a committee to study how best to return to something like a normal school day. Bisleupic also called for more testing.
“COVID testing is so vital for surveillance, for being able to get these children back into school,” Bisleupic said. “Testing resources must be accessible and we have to have a plan for access and implementation.”
Megan Wojtulewicz, a parent and high school teacher, also called for a return to full day instruction as soon as possible.
“Our students’ mental health is suffering,” Wojtulewicz said. “Kids who typically excel in school are missing out on enrichment opportunities; kids who require additional support are falling even further behind. We’re simply surviving, not thriving.”
Wojtulewicz said hybrid learning favors those with in-home family or economic resources and that District 95’s model is broadening the achievement gap between students.
“We cannot wait for our state guidelines to shift” Wojtulewicz said. “We need a plan based on our local metrics and the needs of our specific community.”
Another parent who spoke, Kristin Reingruber, is the principal of an elementary school in Hinsdale that is returning to full-day school in April. Reingruber called for creative thinking and problem solving and called for more formalized solicitation of parent feedback.
Not every parent who spoke at the meeting was pushing for a quick return to full day school attendance.
“The logistics of a full day of school, given the current restrictions, are nearly impossible,” said Michael Graham who said that he hopes that a return to full-day instruction will happen next fall.
Brook Park teacher Lynda Nadkarni, who is the president of the District 95 teachers union, also addressed the school board, noting that Brook Park is a very large school where it would be impossible to maintain social distancing if all students attended at the same time.
“What is the impact of having a thousand students in a building that encompasses a square block?” Nadkarni asked, adding that she thought the hybrid model was working well with small classes.
After the public comment portion of the meeting school board President Scott Encher read a prepared statement in response to the comments.
“As we move forward through this year and into next know that we will continue to evaluate our options while giving consideration to community input, recommendations of health officials, status of current efforts, and our ability to operate effectively with any given instructional model,” Encher said.
After the meeting, District 95 Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski said he heard the parents’ voices but cautioned that it was unlikely that the district would return to full-day instruction this year.
“What I heard tonight was that maybe they want that to start with a parent survey,” Kuzniewski said. “But I’m not certain that having the conversation means we’re coming back after spring break or we’re coming back in May. …
“It’s not as easy as just opening the doors. There’s scheduling components to that. We’re going to have to offer a remote option even if we open our doors to all students, that’s a mandate of the state still.”
Seventy-two percent of District 95 students have been attending school under the hybrid option.
Kuzniewski noted that while some school districts are instituting full-day, in-person instruction in March, that’s not where District 95 is at.
“That doesn’t mean we can’t start talking about how to do it,” Kuzniewski said. “I’m hopeful for the fall, I really am. That has been our goal is to get kids back in. We’ve got to do it safely and we’ve got to continue to do it in a manner in which we can operate.”