Parents rally for in-person learning at Libertyville District 70

Parents, students and supporters of in-person learning in Libertyville Elementary District 70 rallied Monday against the ongoing 'eSchool' model and to get kids back in classrooms sooner rather than later.

About 200 people, the vast majority wearing masks, spread throughout the parking lot at Butterfield School to listen to several speakers make their points and be seen and heard by District 70 school board members arriving for a regularly scheduled meeting.

Many carried signs urging District 70 to open the schools to in-person learning and let parents choose whether to send their kids.

Other slogans such as "In School, Not on Screen" showed the sentiment of frustrated parents and kids who want to end the isolation and emotional drain of remote learning.

"E-learning has taken our world and turned it upside down," said Chris Mulligan, a senior at Libertyville High School and one of several speakers.

"We need to be back in school. That is the opinion of many students. Many," he added. Going back would offer a chance "to be a normal kid again," he concluded to applause.

The rally came in advance of the meeting at which a reopening advisory committee recommended a phased hybrid approach to safely open schools beginning at the end of October.

"There is great interest in our reopening planning efforts - and there should be," Superintendent Matt Barbini said in a statement before the rally.

Barbini said as a parent, he has experienced firsthand the challenges of eSchool learning, has heard from the community and is committed to safely reopening.

"We all agree students learn best in school," he said.

The rally was staged by a Facebook group, known as Libertyville for In-Person School, which was formed about two weeks ago.

But the idea began percolating in late July after the school board voted 5-2 to proceed with remote learning only for the first trimester which ends Nov. 16, said co-founder Evan Williamson.

"Our goal is to allow parents to have a choice to send their kids in person," said Williamson, who has a son in first grade at Copeland Manor School.

The group contends most parents and teachers preferred to return to in-person learning with protective measures to guard against the coronavirus but the district opted for a fully remote start anyway.

In a statement to the board, Williamson said thresholds of the number of cases per 100,000 residents for in-person learning recommended by the Northern Illinois Public Health Consortium are unrealistic.

He added that "virtually no one in the District 70 community is at high risk of hospitalization or death from COVID" and there is no evidence that thresholds correlate to in-person safety.

In-person schooling, he concluded, is safe for students and teachers and there are damaging long-term effects related to isolation as well as an increase in mental health issues by not having it.

Supporters of in-school learning note Catholic schools in town, as well as elementary districts Oak Grove 68 in Green Oaks and Rondout 72 near Lake Forest, offer a choice and opened last month with kids in the classroom.

Superintendents at both districts on Monday said no positive cases of COVID-19 had been reported among students or staff since school opened last month.

Both are single-school districts with far fewer students. District 70 has an enrollment of about 2,250 in five schools.

Rondout District 72 Superintendent Jenny Wojcik said several factors such as the number of students and available space, for example, make district comparisons when it comes to in-school learning difficult.

"Everyone's trying to do the best they can with the situation," she said.

  About 200 parents, students and others gathered Monday at Butterfield School in Libertyville in support of in-school learning. Mick Zawislak/
  Evan Williamson, co-founder of Libertyville for In-Person School speaks to supporters Monday evening at Butterfield School before the District 70 board meeting. About 200 gathered in support of the message. Mick Zawislak/
  Many young students were among those showing support Monday evening to open Libertyville Elementary District 70 schools to in-person learning. Mick Zawislak/
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