Parents, students want high schools to open "safely and soon"

  • Dr. Jennifer Ron, a Vernon Hills parent speaks at a rally Tuesday in Cook Park in downtown Libertyville to get students at Vernon Hills and Libertyville high schools back in the classroom. "We have very very smart people running our school system," she said. "I'm sure they can come up with a safe way to get our kids back in school."

    Dr. Jennifer Ron, a Vernon Hills parent speaks at a rally Tuesday in Cook Park in downtown Libertyville to get students at Vernon Hills and Libertyville high schools back in the classroom. "We have very very smart people running our school system," she said. "I'm sure they can come up with a safe way to get our kids back in school." John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 9/30/2020 9:02 AM

Parents, children and others rallied Tuesday evening for a return to in-person learning for about 3,400 students at Libertyville and Vernon Hills high schools.

About 150 supporters, some carrying homemade signs and the vast majority wearing masks, filled Cook Park in downtown Libertyville in advance of the Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128 board meeting.

 
Libertyville High School parent Ted Hanagan holds a sign and rings a cowbell at a rally Tuesday to return students to in-person class in Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128.
Libertyville High School parent Ted Hanagan holds a sign and rings a cowbell at a rally Tuesday to return students to in-person class in Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128. - John Starks | Staff Photographer

Power to audio system went out just as the first of about a dozen speakers was being introduced. But the group was prepared with a generator and continued the message to get students back full-time.

"It's lonely, it's isolating and it's unhealthy," said Gabi Serra, a Vernon Hills High School student.

The school board on July 22 decided to start the school year solely with remote learning based on the uncertainty surrounding the health risks of the coronavirus.

Organizers start a portable generator after the power went out at the start of rally to reopen Libertyville and Vernon Hills high schools to in-person learning.
Organizers start a portable generator after the power went out at the start of rally to reopen Libertyville and Vernon Hills high schools to in-person learning. - John Starks | Staff Photographer
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Those rallying Tuesday said the model wasn't working and that a majority of parents, students and teachers surveyed in July preferred a return to school with safety precautions.

"We want our high school to open safely and soon and we want to have a choice," said Kristen Christensen, who founded the group called Libertyville/Vernon Hills for In-Person School.

In an update to parents Friday, Superintendent Prentiss Lea and school board president Pat Groody said they shared the "sense of challenge and frustration" and also want to open district schools.

They said good progress in preparing facilities and staff to return to school is being made and several new facilities at both campuses have or soon will be completed and will greatly assist in meeting social distancing requirements to ensure student safety.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Only a few handmade signs were visible at a rally Tuesday to return to in-school learning at Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128.
Only a few handmade signs were visible at a rally Tuesday to return to in-school learning at Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128. - John Starks | Staff Photographer

At the board meeting, Groody said there has been extensive feedback from parents on both sides of in-person debate.

"It's clear we as communities remain deeply divided on this issue," he said. He said the district will "continue to be challenged for the foreseeable future."

In his report, Lea said there have been a number of students coming back to campus for a number of reasons. The district's leadership team and other staff will meet Monday to assess and discuss various elements to proceed to the next stages phases of reopening.

The rally in Cook Park was held by a group called Libertyville/Vernon Hills for In-Person School, which was formed by Christensen two weeks ago and already has attracted 750 members.

High School students lined the front row of a rally Tuesday in Cook Park in Libertyville to re-open Vernon Hills and Libertyville high schools to in-person learning.
High School students lined the front row of a rally Tuesday in Cook Park in Libertyville to re-open Vernon Hills and Libertyville high schools to in-person learning. - John Starks | Staff Photographer

She said the organization and structure of Tuesday's rally was modeled after one held last week to bring students back to classrooms in Libertyville Elementary District 70, where she has three kids.

The look and message was similar, with about a dozen speakers including parents and students from both high schools, a doctor, nurse and others.

"We have fantastic teachers here. We want to let them teach," said Dale Sherman, an LHS parent. "We them to be in-person inspiring our kids."

• Daily Herald Staff Writer John Starks contributed to this report.

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