Jason Loebach: 2021 candidate for Glen Ellyn District 41 school board
Eight candidates are vying for four seats (four-year term) in the 2021 Glen Ellyn District 41 school board race.
City: Glen Ellyn
Occupation: Attorney at Chitkowski Law Offices
Civic involvement: Vice president of the Glen Ellyn School District 41 Board of Education; Inclusion Subcommittee of the Integration and Alignment Committee of the Early Learning Council of Illinois' Office of Early Childhood Development; organizer of a Rock Your Socks Campaign to distribute socks in District 41 to raise awareness for World Down Syndrome Day
Q. Why are you running for this office, whether for reelection or election the first time? Is there a particular issue that motivates you, and if so, what is it?
A. While there is no single issue that motivated me to seek reelection, I am proud of my work on the Board and eager to continue serving my community. Obviously the biggest issue before us is the pandemic. We've kept kids safe and learning this past year and we are actively planning for a full return in the fall. Doing that safely and successfully requires experience and fluency with our system that I, as current board vice-president, have. It's important to remember this is a 4 year job. While pandemic recovery is a multiyear process, it is crucial we continue the work that was interrupted by this crisis and keep moving forward. An example is overseeing transitioning the District's Special Education Strategic Plan, which I, as the Board representative, have overseen, into the District's overall long-range plan. It's important the years of collaborative effort from the special education committee be thoughtfully and effectively incorporated. Special services and inclusion have always been top priorities for me. An aspect of our return to school plan I am most proud of is that it will be inclusive, meaning it will provide safe avenues for every D41 student to come back to full day.
Q. How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A. District 41 has done a good job responding to the pandemic. When the state closed schools, D41 focused on its students. D41 ensured all students had access to laptops and internet access to participate in remote learning. D41 also expanded its meal distribution to ensure no student was without food. In the fall, D41 was transparent about the issues it was facing and the work being done to address them. D41 reached agreements with its unions so labor issues did not disrupt learning. This resulted in D41 being one of the first districts in the area to bring students back for in-person learning 5 days a week while still offering all academic programs to in-person and remote-learning students. D41 was the third district in Illinois to implement a COVID screening program that allowed our schools to remain open. This program provides actionable data to the District to make targeted decisions when positive cases are detected. In the new year, we established a second testing format, BinaxNow, that made testing more accessible to those with special needs. D41 is now conducting vaccine drives to make COVID vaccines available to all staff members. All this helps keep students and staff safe.
Q. How do you view your role in confronting the pandemic: provide leadership even if unpopular, give a voice to constituents -- even ones with whom you disagree, or defer to state authorities?
A. As a Board member, I am responsible to keep kids and staff safe, and ensure the best possible learning experiences happen. The pandemic has brought that into sharp focus. D41 developed its in-person and remote-learning models to meet all applicable scientific/medical guidelines. While not all decisions made have been popular, I can sleep at night knowing they were made to keep students and staff safe while providing robust academic programs for in-person and remote-learning models. To give community members a voice in these decisions, the Board authorized the creation of a Pandemic Response Advisory Team that is comprised of dozens of qualified stakeholders, including community members and professionals from the scientific and medical fields, and reports regularly to the Board. As a Board, we approved the costs of weekly testing, a consulting epidemiologist, and an expanded nursing staff to aide in contract tracing. These investments prevented widespread shutdowns and enabled us to contain smaller outbreaks quickly and effectively. The choices made and priorities set by the Board this year are key aspects that will allow D41 to fully reopen schools in the fall for all students.
Q. Did your district continue to adequately serve students during the disruptions caused by the pandemic? If so, please cite an example of how it successfully adjusted to continue providing services. If not, please cite a specific example of what could have been done better.
A. Throughout the pandemic, D41 provided the full continuum of instruction and services to all students. While the presentation of some instruction and services was done differently, D41 did not bend on its commitment to provide a great education for all students in a safe environment. D41 has continued to provide FLES, all specials, and maintained its dual language program. D41 has also creatively problem solved how to meet the needs of children with IEPs and 504s and, when possible and safe based on individual students' needs, done its utmost to provide in person minutes. As a board, we made COVID screening available to all students and staff, which has provided D41 with actionable information of positive cases that has reduced transmissions and minimized school closings. I'm also proud of D41's dedication to social emotional learning and mental health support. D41 makes SEL a priority and has provided the resources for a social emotional curriculum for all students. D41 has brought in extra social workers to ensure to keep track and act on our students' increased mental health needs. We are all undergoing a trauma, and healing will require caring and experienced professionals.
Q. Do you have a plan on how to safely and effectively conduct classes in the spring? What have you learned from the fall semester that you would change in the spring?
A. Since reopening schools in fall, D41 has continued to add to its mitigation measures. Through the use of COVID screening, D41 was able to keep its schools open between Thanksgiving and winter break, something very few public school districts were able to do. Shortly thereafter, D41 expanded its COVID testing program by offering BinaxNOW tests, which were obtained at no cost to the District.
I mentioned that the Board's decisions are not always popular. We recently confirmed we will be maintaining our hybrid model for the duration of this school year. Some families were not surprised, some were relieved, some were very disappointed, and they have not been shy about their frustrations. But, we are still in the substantial risk category.
I am committed to fully, equitably and inclusively opening schools in the fall. The question of how that will look is being answered right now. It is D41's top priority. The plan will likely involve layers of mitigations and will evolve as we gather community feedback, observe the impact of vaccinations in our community, analyze our annual academic performance data that is due in the next few weeks. I am invested in a full day return to school in the fall.
Q. What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A. As an elementary school district, District 41 is not involved with high school sports. However, District 41 has utilized COVID-19 screening, masking and other mitigation measures to start bring extracurricular activities, starting with a basketball program.