Parents in District 70 asked to curb social gatherings

  • Matt Barbini

    Matt Barbini

  • Nine-year-old fourth grader Teagan Suttie was among those who showed support for in-school learning for Libertyville Elementary District 70 at a rally in September.

      Nine-year-old fourth grader Teagan Suttie was among those who showed support for in-school learning for Libertyville Elementary District 70 at a rally in September. Mick Zawislak | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 12/4/2020 8:06 PM

Until Thursday, communications about the coronavirus to parents in Libertyville Elementary District 70 focused on the "Three Ws" -- wear a mask, wash your hands and watch your distance.

But a photo that appeared on social media and began circulating among an already stressed staff brought out the Mama Bear in Superintendent Matt Barbini, who took the usual precautionary statements up a few notches.

 

Saying he was writing "out of disappointment," Barbini let loose and implored parents to do their part to help keep schools open.

"It was the strongest message I have ever sent professionally," he said Friday. "Oh, it got people's attention," he added.

In the letter, he said a photo showing a group of women, including several District 70 parents, not socially distancing or wearing masks after a Turkey Trot -- and others of holiday travel and gatherings -- are "hurtful to staff and is undermining efforts to keep schools open."

District 70 is one of few in Lake County with in-school learning. Students in the district's four elementary schools returned to class for the first time this year Nov. 9. Highland Middle School students returned Nov. 17.

"Our teachers are doing valiant work on behalf of your children," he wrote. "But staff morale is low, our employees are anxious, and unlike families, they generally do not have the choice of an in-person or remote option."

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About 75% of District 70 parents chose the hybrid option for their children, but all teachers are teaching in the schools. Before opening, parents rallied to have a choice and a slate of four school board candidates has surfaced.

Barbini on Friday said the photo was the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back.

"It really brought greater anxiety to the situation," he said. Teachers "are tired, they are exhausted, they are scared and there is anxiety to a greater or lesser degree," he added.

He again asked parents to respect teachers, as students are respected, and to curb social gatherings outside of the immediate family to keep schools open and reduce the spread of COVID-19.

District employees are held to the same expectation, he said, and he would have an "equally strong reaction" if a similar photo showing staff was "floating around social media."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The district has multiple mitigation measures in place. While there have been cases among student and staff, the transmission is occurring outside school, according to the district.

A summary on the district's dashboard for the week of Nov. 30 showed active cases for seven students and three staff members, with 45 students and eight staff members in quarantine because they came in close contact with someone carrying the virus or a family member has symptoms.

Barbini said he wouldn't hesitate to temporarily shut down a school in consultation with the Lake County Health Department and go to full remote learning if transmission in schools occurs or there aren't enough substitutes to cover teacher absences.

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