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Geneva D-304 parents picket, demand more in-person learning for their kids

GENEVA – Eleven parents and six children picketed the Geneva District 304 administration office Friday morning, walking in a light snowfall and carrying signs demanding that the district maintain in-person learning on alternate Fridays instead of going to all-remote every Friday.

The school board voted to accept the all-remote Fridays plan for the second semester at its Jan. 11 meeting. Though the plan called for whole classrooms to have live online learning with their teachers for 2 1/2 hours on those days, the parents said it was not good enough.

Rally organizer Stephanie Fellinger carried a sign that stated “Kids learn better in person” on one side and “Kids need to be in school” on the other side.

Other signs proclaimed various messages on the same theme, including “We want to be in school,” “Why are you taking away in-person learning days? Kids deserve more” and “Shame on you D304.”

Ashlee White, a mother of three including twin first-graders at Williamsburg, said the district did a follow-up email, “and the main reason now that they’re saying is they need the nursing staff to be able to do contact tracing for (coronavirus) cases.”

“They gave us a reason why, we just don’t agree with it,” White said. “If they have to do contact tracing that’s fine, but it’s up to the public health department.”

She said if the Kane County Health Department doesn’t have enough employees to do contact tracing in the schools, “They should be hiring people.”

“I don’t think our (coronavirus) cases – especially in our elementary schools and middle schools – I don’t think that’s enough work for the contract tracers to take away a full day of in-person learning for the kids,” White said. “That is the optimal goal in Phase 4 – according to the Illinois State Board of Education – is in-person learning. That should be the goal. Why are we moving away from that goal?”

White said she was proud of how the District 304 was handling school during the coronavirus pandemic – until now.

“I was proud because they went through with their promise of going back to the (hybrid) schedule. A lot of districts said they were going to, and they didn’t,” White said. “We thought they were doing their best. … But now we’re backtracking and it’s going to set a precedent for everyone and it’s not appreciated.”

White said her children have Individual Education Plans. They went to school on Fridays, until the district took them away then promised to start them back on Fridays.

“It’s a mess,” White said. “It’s very confusing … people don’t even understand when their kids are going to be in school, out of school. … I have parents come up to me all the time asking, ‘Do our kids get to go to school this or do they not go to school this Friday? Are we a half day or a full day?’”

White said officials claimed they needed consistency in scheduling and now that they’ve made a decision not to have alternate Fridays of in-school learning, they are not changing it

“They’ve changed their decision so many times, they can change it back,” White said.

White said the goal of Phase 4 in Illinois is to have children back in school full time, yet each county in the state is doing something different.

“Remote hybrid learning actually increases the risk of infection, because if they’re not in school full time, where are they? They’re at the babysitter’s house,” White said. “They’re over here or they’re over there. All districts in Kane County are doing something different.”

White said the Illinois State Board of Education also supports schools to return to in-person learning in Phase 4.

“In-person instruction is strongly encouraged in Phase 4,” according to the state board’s website, www.isbe.net, regarding schools and COVID-19. “However, it is critical to note that this does not signify a return to pre-pandemic operations. Appropriate social distancing, face coverings, enhanced sanitation measures, and other accommodations will be necessary to ensure the safety of students, staff, and their families.”

Bob and Alina Brigham, parents of 6-year-old triplets at Western Avenue School said they came to the rally to encourage more in-person learning.

“I’m here because I know my kids are struggling,” Alina Brigham said. “I ask my kids and they love being in-person, that’s how they learn the best. At home they are not learning, they are struggling. I’m a stay-at-home mom, but I’m not a teacher, so it’s been hard. I can see they are behind.”

Bob Brigham said he is a private investor, working from home, but does not do well policing his children to do their schoolwork.

“The teachers are wonderful and I think they are doing the best they can, but we need more in-person days for kids,” Bob Brigham said.

Phil Smith, who has a 2-year-old, a preschooler, a first grader and a third grader at Williamsburg, said he wants more than than a return to alternate Fridays

“I’m here to get these kids back five days a week,” Smith said. “The safest place for these kids to learn is in school because it goes beyond just covid. I have a full time job, I’m working from home and have to do daycare for my 2-year-old who naturally, normally goes with my wife, who is a stay-at-home mom.”

Smith cited the Centers for Disease Control and American Academy of Pediatrics as supporting not shutting down schools at all during the pandemic.

However, the American Academy of Pediatricians website services.aap.org states: “The decision to reopen schools for in-person learning should be based on the guidance of local and state public health officials, as well as school administrators.”

Also, according to the CDC website, cdc.gov, on Operating Schools During COVID-19, updated Dec. 31, 2020, it lists the lowest risk for students and teachers is virtual-only classes, and hybrid models with some risk.

“Opening schools for in-person learning as safely and quickly as possible, and keeping them open, is important given the many known and established benefits of in-person learning,” according to the CDC website. “In order to enable in-person learning and assist schools with their day-to-day operations, it is important to adopt and diligently implement actions to slow the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 inside the school and out in the community.”

Smith said his first grade daughter has an IEP and needs help with reading and math.

“She’s regressed, big time, it’s noticeable, and it’s sad. And we deal on a weekly basis with tears,” Smith said. “They want to be in school with their friends. And my wife and I have had discussions with the board before, and don’t feel like anyone is being heard, not even considered.”

Smith also cited Batavia and St. Charles schools that have had more in-person school days “and they didn’t have any sort of rampant spike or anything like that.”

The parents at the rally have said they plan on speaking out at the next school board meeting Jan. 25.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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