Kids arrive at Komarek School on the first day of classes Aug. 31 entering the newly renovated and expanded west wing, where all classrooms are now located. A portion of the east wing is being demolished to make way for a new gymnasium. | Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer

In 2022, the masks came off at area schools and things returned to normal despite the lingering presence of COVID-19. Students and parents once again gathered for large indoor events such as assemblies, plays and performances. By the end of the year masks were a rare sight with only a very few students and teachers wearing face masks in school. 

“I think it has been a very significant return to what we’ll never take for granted as normal,” said Martha Ryan-Toye, the superintendent of Riverside Elementary School District 96.  

Face masks were a contentious issue at many schools at the beginning of 2022, especially at Lyons Township High School, where a vocal group objected to a mask mandate. 

In early February, more than 100 LTHS students refused to wear face masks and were barred from their classrooms and confined to other areas of the school. Face masks were also the subject of contentious meeting of the Brookfield-LaGrange Park School District 95 Board of Education in February. 

But by March 1 face masks were no longer required in area schools. Some school boards even eliminated the mask mandate before Gov. J.B. Pritzker lifted the state mask mandate in schools on March 1.

Gone too are the days of entirely quarantining a classroom if one student comes down with COVID. Now only the student who is infected is generally required to stay away from school for five calendar days.

COVID has not gone away. In District 96, one of the few area districts that does COVID testing, 98 students and 33 staff members have tested positive for COVID since the start of the 2022-23 school year in August. But most cases are mild and the infected students and staff members only miss a few days of school.

“We’re talking about children with maybe three days of absences, which isn’t highly unusual from flu, cold and other viruses that children get, so it does not feel like it’s had a significant impact,” Ryan-Toye said.

Tensions at LTHS

Other issues were also contentious at LTHS in the first half of 2022, including a new grading system that initially didn’t count homework toward a class grade and allowed the unlimited retakes of tests. 

LTHS officials spent much of 2022 modifying the grading system to combat what became an endless cycle of test retakes and in response to complaints from parents that the new system was disincentivizing students from doing their homework. 

One veteran LTHS English teacher even quit at the end of the 2021-22, blasting the new grading system and the administration. By the start of the fall semester, homework did count again and retakes were limited.

Race was also a flashpoint at LTHS in 2022. In February a Black LTHS sophomore reported that after she made a social media post about Black History Month, she received a flood of racist responses. 

This resulted in an anti-racism protest at LTHS. A couple months later, on April 27, the same student, a sophomore girl, who said that she received racist taunts attacked a 14-year-old white freshman girl in a school hallway.

The attack was recorded on a cell phone and went viral on conservative political websites. The Black girl was ultimately arrested and charged with misdemeanor battery, while the boy who recorded the incident was charged with disorderly conduct. In August LTHS agreed to pay the family of the girl who was attacked a $158,500 settlement to prevent a lawsuit.

Renaissance at Komarek School

Komarek School was transformed in 2022. A new addition to the west wing opened in the spring and the fully renovated existing west wing was ready to welcome students when they returned to school on Aug. 31. 

Their once cramped, stuffy, dowdy school with a leaky roof had turned into a sparkling, open, modern, colorful, comfortable state-of-the-art school. A new gym is currently being built and should open in 2023.

Diamond dreams

Braves First round draft pick Owen Murphy visits Truist Park on July 23, 2022. Photo by Matthew Grimes/Atlanta Braves

A highlight of the year at Riverside-Brookfield High School was the performance of the school’s baseball team led by pitcher/shortstop Owen Murphy, no doubt the best baseball player who ever has played at RBHS. 

The Bulldogs went 30-6 and won their first regional championship since 2014 before losing to Mount Carmel 11-6 in a sectional a game that Murphy didn’t pitch in.

Murphy was almost unhittable on the mound and a terror at the plate. As a pitcher, he was undefeated (9-0) and had a 0.12 ERA. He threw four no hitters and struck out 156 batters in 58.1 innings. As batter he hit .578 with 18 home runs and 75 RBI.

In July Murphy was selected by the Atlanta Braves with the 20th pick in the first round of the MLB draft. He quickly signed a contract with the Braves that included a reported $2.56 million signing bonus. 

Ryan Cermak, a 2019 RBHS grad who developed into an outstanding centerfielder and power hitter at Illinois State University, was picked in the second round of the MLB draft with the 71st overall pick by the Tampa Bay Rays. Cermak also quickly signed and received a reported $750,000 signing bonus.

Allegations made against coach

However, this fall some of the glow of RBHS baseball dimmed when Dallas Till, the RBHS baseball coach who coached Murphy and Cermak, was named in a lawsuit filed by a woman whom Till had coached as a basketball player at Elmwood Park High School in 2008. 

The lawsuit alleged that Till had had a sexual relationship with the then-minor while she played on his team. Till was placed on paid administrative leave over the summer when RBHS officials had learned of the lawsuit and its allegations. 

Till had resigned as girls basketball coach at RBHS in 2021 and resigned as RBHS baseball coach this fall after he was put on paid administrative leave. 

After the Landmark broke the news of the lawsuit against Till, a 37-year-old woman appeared before the RBHS school board in October, alleging that Till tried to groom her when she was a 16-year-old high school junior at Morton East High School and Till was a student-teacher there.