Parents, students rally in downtown Naperville to reopen schools full time
"Kids learn best in person." "Get our kids back in school." "Hybrid learning doesn't cut the mustard."
The signs displayed Sunday during a march and rally in downtown Naperville echoed the rallying cry of participating parents, students and community members from several suburban school districts.
Chants of "five days a week" and "never again" broke out among the crowd as guest speakers demanded full-time in-person learning for students at all grade levels.
The cross-district event was organized by a group of parents frustrated by their school leaders' communication, timing and implementation of back-to-school plans during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Lori Skurka, an organizer and mom of three students in Indian Prairie Unit District 204.
Her district and others in the area recently announced their intent to expand in-person learning opportunities after state officials eased school social distancing guidelines last week. The movement is a positive sign, Skurka said, but for many families, "it's too little too late."
Some participants said they believe students should have started the academic year in a hybrid model and had the option to return to the classroom Monday through Friday much sooner. Others expressed concerns over how remote learning has affected kids' academic and social-emotional well-being.
"The picture is much larger," Skurka said. "This can't happen again. You have to get people on school boards who will advocate for you."
In addition to District 204, participants included families from Naperville District 203, Geneva District 304, St. Charles District 303, Kaneland District 202, Downers Grove-based Community District 99, Hinsdale Township District 86, Oswego District 308 and Plainfield District 202.
Naperville Central High School senior Zoe Howard, who kicked off the rally with a trumpet performance of "God Bless America," said the circumstances of the last year have taken a toll on her mental health. Her participation in band and other extracurricular activities has been limited, she said, and as a visual, hands-on learner, completing schoolwork in a remote or hybrid setting has been difficult.
"It's been getting better, but we're not there yet," she said. "I really hope (school leaders) can make the right choice and get us full-time because two days a week is not enough."
The challenges faced by students, teachers and parents over the last year was a theme among guest speakers, who included Paul Vallas, former Chicago mayoral candidate and previous CEO of Chicago Public Schools; Republican state Sen. Darren Bailey, who recently launched a bid for governor; radio personality Amy Jacobson; Naperville City Councilman Kevin Coyne; and school board candidates from various districts.
As the parent of a District 204 kindergartner, Sabrina Lewis of Aurora says her family's introduction to school has been nothing short of frustrating. The hybrid schedule is hard on working parents, she said, and she has little faith that the district will be able to return to some level of normalcy this year.
"It's great that there are so many parents that are now speaking up and that finally will be heard," Lewis said.