Congress Park School, Brookfield

After nearly three hours of discussion and about at a special meeting Friday evening a closely divided LaGrange-Brookfield District 102 school board decided to stick with its hybrid learning model in the district’s elementary schools. 

Four board members, Dorren Gertsen-Briand, Ed Campbell, Leah Werab, and Scott Wugazzer were in favor of sticking with a partial school day instead of switching to full-time, in-person instruction for the final two months of the school year in the district’s elementary schools.

“I don’t think it’s a responsible use of the taxpayers’ dollars and the efforts of the staff for a few weeks [of full in-person instruction],” Gertsen-Briand said right before the straw vote.

Board President Michael Melendez, who is a Brookfield resident, and former board president Brian Anderson supported switching to full, in-person instruction at the elementary schools while Bessie Boyd, although acknowledging problems with switching to full day, favored leaving the decision to Superintendent Kyle Schumacher, who recommended switching to full-day instruction while acknowledging the not insignificant issues that such a change so late in the school year would bring. 

Schumacher said he respected the board’s decision.

“The board has to act on what they think is best for students,” Schumacher said.

A narrow majority of parents, 52.7 percent favored switching to full-day instruction. But nearly 30 percent of those favoring a switch said would change their position if their child had to switch teachers as a result, something Schumacher said would likely have to happen for 12 to 30 students per school. 

The teachers’ union favored sticking with the hybrid model, saying it was working well and that making a change so late in the school year was not a good idea. That argument stuck a chord with some school board members.

“I do struggle with making changes at this time,” Wugazzer said.

Campbell, a Brookfield resident, said that it was a difficult choice.

“It was a very hard vote,” Campbell said, noting that there were good arguments on both sides.

Anderson was the most vocal advocate of switching to full-day, in-person school, noting declining test scores in math this year at Park Junior High School and at some of the district’s elementary schools.

Schumacher said switching to full-day instruction at the elementary schools could be done but would create some difficult issues. The district would have had to work through how to handle lunch and possibly hire as many as eight additional teachers for the remainder of the school year. That was a concern for Werab, who was a strong proponent of sticking with hybrid instruction for the rest of the year.

“I can’t imagine we can find quality teachers who want to start up in April and end in May,” Werab said, although Schumacher said the district would reach out to its retired teachers and substitutes.

A switch to in-person learning would have limited the amount of small-group work that could be done, because students would have to stay in their seats throughout the school day and couldn’t move around the classroom as much as they would in pre-pandemic times.

The board did approve recommendations for small changes at Park Junior High that could include lengthening the in-person portion of the school day by 15 minutes for hybrid students after spring break. 

Currently, junior high students in the hybrid option attend school for 2.5 hours like their elementary school counterparts. Hybrid elementary school students will continue to attend school in person for just 2.5 hours in the morning or the afternoon.

Parents who wanted to switch to full-day school seemed disappointed, but not surprised, with the decision to stick with the hybrid model. But they remain concerned about the lack of social interaction for their children.

“We’re terrified that our children are missing out on that [social emotional learning] component, and I would just encourage you guys to please put as much focus on what we can do from now to the beginning of the next school year on helping our kids come together in safe ways and continue to develop those skills, because it’s a real concern,” said Rebecca Rose, the mother to two students who attend Forest Road School in LaGrange Park.

Anderson said he understands the anger and frustration among parents who want to return to a regular school day.

“The anger and frustration of those families would be righteous; it would be fair,” Anderson said.