'I am asking for a choice': Barrington 220 parents, students rally for in-person learning
Holding signs like "Schools not screens" and "Stop playing politics, start playing ball," more than 200 parents and students in Barrington Area Unit District 220 took part in a rally Monday evening asking the district to allow in-person schooling and sports.
District officials have said that students will be doing remote learning until at least Oct. 16. The "Let Them Play" rally at Citizens Park in Barrington asked Gov. J.B. Pritzker to "get our athletes on the field and kids back in the classrooms."
Among the organizers were parents Jerry and Heather Ewalt of Barrington, who have four children in elementary, middle and high school in the district and said families should be given a choice between e-learning and sending their kids to school.
"Why are they not in school? They should be there," Jerry Ewalt said. "I am asking for a choice. I understand some people are not going to be comfortable with going into school, and that's OK."
A survey conducted by the district earlier this summer showed 70% of parents wanted their children in school, he pointed out. "So why are they not in school?" he said, getting applause and cheering from the crowd.
The survey also showed about 50% of the district's staff had concerns about returning to work.
Heather Ewalt said all four of her children have been struggling with e-learning, no matter their teachers' efforts.
"We have had meltdowns, technical issues, all sorts of issues ... ," she said. "We got them private tutors, they have their own rooms and we set them up with desks. We got them everything they need for success -- and my kids are struggling."
Other families might not have such means, which can make remote learning even more challenging, she said.
Fourteen-year-old Devan Van Ness, a freshman at Barrington High School who came to the rally with four classmates, said he wants to go back to school and be able to play football and wrestle again.
"It's depressing. It's boring. The days feel really long when you're just at home," he said, adding he also misses seeing friends.
Parent Jessica Hutchison, who works as a counselor and spoke at the rally, said there are mental health consequences to social isolation. She pointed to suicide rates among young people, which had been increasing before the pandemic.
"I am standing here today urging Illinois to look at the other side of this pandemic," Hutchison said, exhorting people to talk about their feelings and seek help if needed.
District staff members are working on metrics that will determine when it's safe for students to return to in-person learning, and they plan to present that at the board of education meeting Tuesday night, district spokeswoman Samantha Ptashkin said. Student enrollment in late August was 8,554, according to district documents.
The district has had eight cases of COVID-19 among staff members -- six of them current -- since school started last month, she said. There have been no cases related to students being on campus either for education or athletic programs.
Rumors about an outbreak of COVID-19 during summer athletic camps are not true, Ptashkin said. "Any student who tested positive never showed up to our camps in the first place."
The state of Illinois reported 1,373 new cases of the respiratory disease and five additional deaths Monday. The statewide total is 262,744 cases, with 8,314 people dying as a result of the pandemic.