Dist. 220 will consider reopening sooner
After hearing pleas from frustrated parents, the board of Barrington Area Unit School District 220 decided to discuss with its teachers union the possibility of changing its COVID-19 plan to reopen sooner.
That will be discussed at a labor-management meeting Nov. 9, followed by a closed school board meeting via Zoom on Nov. 12, board members decided Wednesday night. Virtual learning will continue until at least Nov. 16.
The district in September developed a four-phase reopening plan with five metrics based on public health guidance.
"Those (school districts) who are closed are following public health guidance. Those who are open, are not," Superintendent Brian Harris said. There also are liability considerations in deciding whether to reopen, he added.
Board members Angela Wilcox, Gavin Newman and Mike Shackleton said they want to move away from the district's metrics in favor of reopening as soon as possible. Board President Penny Kazmier and board members Sandra Ficke-Bradford, Barry Altshuler and Leah Collister-Lazzari asked for a discussion with the teachers union first.
The district started in-person classes Oct. 19 with a hybrid model, meaning families could choose to continue virtual learning if they wanted. Just a day later, Harris announced a return to all-virtual learning starting Oct. 28, after guidance from the Lake County Health Department regarding increasing COVID-19 cases.
Earlier this year, about 67.5% of parents in District 220 said they would send their kids back to school upon reopening. The actual number of students who returned was just over 60% and the next week, it had dropped to 55%, school officials said. Elementary schools had the highest in-person attendance. Also, most kids who said they would ride the bus ended up not doing so.
Harris also said more substitute teachers have declined to come back in the last two weeks.
A dozen current and former parents and students spoke at the board meeting Wednesday advocating for reopening schools. Students' mental health is suffering, they said.
Former student Charlotte Murray said her younger sister, who has special needs, cries every day and has developed tics from the stress.
The situation also is difficult for parents, Maria Steckler said. She works full time from home and supervises two of her three children's schooling, while her husband takes their third child to work with him, she said.
Three people asked for caution in reopening, especially with increasing cases of COVID-19 in the region.
Parent Ken Witek said his children are doing great with virtual learning, but it's important to figure out how to help those who are struggling.