Endorsements: Fairgrieve, McNally, Waibel, Bell for Dist. 303 school board

Five candidates are running for four, 4-year terms on the St. Charles Unit School District 303 school board.

Heidi Fairgrieve, Edward McNally and Carolyn Waibel are running for reelection. Jim Stombres and Kathrine Bell are running for the first time.

As everywhere, this past school year has been a challenge for students, teachers, parents and the school board in the St. Charles District 303. Expanding the in-person learning in the high school is one issue the board is facing and many parents are upset about. Students in pre-K through eighth grade are participating in in-person learning.

All of the candidates stress that their top priority is to get all of the students back into class, but a significant divide separates them on how to do that.

Until recent CDC guidelines relaxed the recommended space between students to three feet instead of six, the District 303 board struggled to find a way to permit in-person learning without exceeding the capacity of the high schools. So, board members unanimously voted to give the superintendent the authority to make decisions on reopening schools so that decisions could be made quickly.

A parents group called D303 Move Forward disagreed with the decision and the issue has clouded the school board race.

What's important to remember is that serving on the school board requires handling a wide range of educational, budgetary and personnel issues. As important as the in-person question is, it is just one issue the board faces, and board members must ultimately be judged on how sincerely they have watched out for the interests of students and how well they have monitored and nurtured students' educational needs.

On these points, there is little question that the board and the incumbent candidates have succeeded well. While it may be argued whether their actions on in-person learning at the high school were correct - and even board members themselves acknowledge they could have done some things differently - it is beyond dispute that they acted with the best interest of the students at heart. And on educational matters, District 303 has a broad reputation for excellence.

So, with this backdrop, Fairgrieve, McNally and Waibel have earned the chance to continue their service and, as far as COVID-19 is concerned, to finish what they started.

Even so, there can be value in having a challenging voice on the board, and Bell, who offers reasoned criticism of the board's COVID-19 response, could serve that role successfully.

We endorse her, along with Fairgrieve, McNally and Waibel, with the hope and expectation that she can constructively help the board navigate not only the challenges of the present but the many others that await once the pandemic crisis has passed.

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