District 220 explains remote learning decision to concerned parents

  • A socially distanced crowd attends Tuesday night's special Barrington Area Unit District 220 board meeting in the cafeteria at Barrington Middle School-Station Campus. A few others were in a nearby library.

    A socially distanced crowd attends Tuesday night's special Barrington Area Unit District 220 board meeting in the cafeteria at Barrington Middle School-Station Campus. A few others were in a nearby library. Bob Susnjara | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 8/4/2020 10:41 PM

Barrington Area Unit District 220 Superintendent Brian Harris went into great detail about why distance learning will be used to start the 2020-21 school year, but parents and students voiced their concerns at a meeting Tuesday night.

Like a growing number of suburban school systems, District 220 last week reversed course on its plan to let parents choose between in-person and online classes. Harris said the remote learning will go to at least Oct. 16.

 

"As I said, my head and my heart are at constant struggle with each other, because in my heart, I hope, we need to get kids and staff back in school," Harris said.

A maximum 50 people were allowed to attend Tuesday night's meeting in the Barrington Middle School-Station Campus cafeteria. Some parents held signs outside the school entrance showing their displeasure with the decision to start 2020-21 with the distance learning.

District 220 officials said two significant problems emerged as they planned to bring back students last month: the inability to maintain social distancing and meeting staffing needs.

Harris said that while a survey showed 70% of parents wanted their children in school, about 50% of the district's staff had concerns about returning to work. He said a longtime contract clause states teachers cannot be forced to work in unsafe conditions.

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With about 9,000 students and 1,200 employees, Harris said there would be many challenges to starting school in person in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and rising positivity rates in the suburbs.

"We will have positive cases," he said. "In fact, we have active positive cases right now of staff members and students that we're aware of right now, today. We're aware of them and we know they exist."

During public comment time, District 220 parent Kathy Quinn cited pediatricians and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as wanting children physically back in school. She said the schools are needed to provide vital in-person services to children of at-risk families.

"Six pages (of CDC information) on why we should be returning to schools," Quinn said while holding the documents.

Barrington High School senior Cameron Marchese said he "learned nothing" in his distance classes to close the 2019-20 academic year. He called on the district to provide five days of live classes online.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

North Barrington Village President Eleanor Sweet McDonnell, a mother of a Barrington High junior, also criticized the remote learning that was offered after Gov. J.B. Pritzker ordered schools closed to in-person classes in March. She said parents were led to believe an in-person option would be available to begin this year.

Barrington Education Association leader Melissa Atteberry also spoke. She said the teachers union never threatened to strike or refuse to work if the academic year did not start online.

Atteberry said many teachers were disappointed in the decision to start remotely.

District 220 was among the first school systems in the suburbs to announce a reopening plan last month.

At the time, school leaders said they believed they could have students back on campus safely, while also offering an opt-out option for parents who were not comfortable sending their children back.

However, Harris warned then that the situation was "extremely fluid" and the district would be ready to pivot if circumstances warranted it.

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