Like school boards across much of the country, the LaGrange-Brookfield District 102 Board of Education is wrestling with whether to return to full-day, in-person attendance for the remainder of the school year and trying to balance the competing interests of parents and staff.
In a meeting that lasted for more than five hours on Feb. 25, the school board wrestled with the issue and heard more than one hour’s worth of public comment from parents and teachers like.
Teachers, who mostly spoke from prepared remarks at the beginning of the meeting were unanimous in opposing a return to full-day, in-person instruction this school year. They said the hybrid model that’s been in place this year has worked well and that scrapping it for full-day, in-person instruction would not be good for students and probably would result in some students having to switch teachers late in the school year.
But board member Brian Anderson and many parents pushed back at that argument.
“The current system is the largest upheaval,” Anderson said. “I think we have to get back on the path we will be on in the fall.”
Board member Leah Werab, who teaches in Elmhurst, had a different view. Werab said she was not ready to consider returning to full-day instruction. Werab said she needed 20 questions answered before she could consider scrapping the hybrid model that has been in use all year.
“I am not endorsing full day until I know the consequences for every child,” said an emotional Werab.
The district recently surveyed parents, but the results were open to interpretation, with 49.7 percent of parents saying they wanted their children to go to school for a full day, including lunch.
Another 10 percent wanted their children to attend school for a full day but come home for lunch. About 19 percent wanted to stay in the current hybrid model where students attend school in person for 2.5 hours a day, while nearly 18 percent wanted to stay in fully remote learning.
But among the parents who want their children to attend school for a full day, 41.2 percent said they only wanted that option if their child would not have to change teachers.
Some teacher change would probably be necessary if the district returns to full-day learning, because some teachers teach different grades in the morning and afternoon in the current hybrid model. Because of confusion on how to interpret the results, the district is sending out another survey to parents.
“We may find out that there’s not a lot of teacher change that will be required,” said Superintendent Kyle Schumacher.
Any changes to the district’s schedule would go into effect on April 5 or 6, leading some to wonder whether a change for the final two months of the school year would be worth it.
If the district switches to full-day attendance the six-foot social distancing guidelines would be scrapped or perhaps reduced to something like three feet to fit more kids into classrooms.
Lunch would be another problem, since current guidelines are that no more than 50 people should gather in the same room at any one time. Teachers receive a contractual lunch break time.
Schumacher suggested that parents and community volunteers could be recruited to oversee students eating lunch in their classrooms.
Schumacher said that the district can only logistically offer two options. Since fully remote has to be one option, the choice is whether to continue with the hybrid or switch to all-day.
“The big question is how many want full day, how many want remote,” Schumacher said. “We cannot run three different models. We cannot run full day, hybrid, and remote.”
Werab insisted that the new survey must also ask how many parents still want to stay in the hybrid model.
One parent, who said that she is a pediatric nurse, said that kids need to back in school.
“Our kids are out of school for five hours every day, and this is not acceptable,” the parent said.
While some parents criticized the teachers for using scripts and having a coordinated response, Kate Murray, the mother of two children who attend Ogden School in LaGrange, said teachers should be listened to.
“Why aren’t we listening to our teachers?” Murray asked. “They are the experts on our kids.”
But Levi Duvall, the father of a first-grader, said his first-grade daughter has regressed socially and emotionally this year and that he didn’t consider learning via iPad a good education.
“What we’re doing today is not working at all,” Duvall said.
Near the end of the meeting school board president Michael Melendez summed up the board’s predicament.
“These decisions are not easy,” Melendez said. “We want to make the right decision.”