Elizabeth Bauer, 2021 candidate for Northwest Community High School District 214 school board
Eight candidates for four seats
City: Arlington Heights
Occupation: Actuary and freelance writer; self-employed
Civic involvement: Band boosters, Scouts, church livestreaming
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: The issue which first motivated me to run for office was the closing of the schools, or, more precisely, the failure to reopen them, at the last minute in August after a summer of promises to offer families the choice of in-person or remote learning. Specifically, the manner in which the school board made this decision, with seemingly no public discussion or evaluation of the costs to students and families of remaining closed, was especially troubling. As I continued to look further into the district and current school board, I learned that a slate, with successive hand-picked replacements, has controlled all seats on the school board for the past 14 years. Though they claim to be independent-minded, I saw no evidence of this. This struck me as deeply unhealthy. Finally, I began to realize that there were deeper issues, that the district's pursuit of dual credit, career pathways and other claims to "top in the nation" was leaving students behind. This is visible in the significant racial/ethnic and economic academic disparities; beyond this, parents have experienced a district indifferent to their individual student's needs. These are my primary, but not only, concerns.
Q: How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A: In its March response to the pandemic, the board's only direct action was the authorization of e-learning and emergency spending powers. However, the board's August decision to close schools, after a summer of promises otherwise, was a serious failure, an instance in which "abundance of caution" actually harms rather than helps. Indeed, board members justified closing because the state might shut the schools down again anyway, rather than seeking to maximize in-person learning however possible. The district further failed to have planned adequately during the summer for contingencies, merely installing new equipment for livestreaming which has never been used. The staff's decisions to follow the most-restrictive interpretation of state guidance, such as treating six-foot spacing as mandatory rather than ideal where possible, led to such small numbers of students returning as to actually deter others from returning. The administration closed schools again in November, just a week and a half after promising they would stay open. And through it all, board members exercised no oversight, asked no critical questions, but merely praised the staff's actions.
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: All three elements have their place, but none of these is the right answer in itself. The school board should balance all relevant concerns and use all available data to make a decision that prioritizes student's learning and physical and mental health while not endangering others. I believe this requires reopening schools to the greatest extent possible, absent clear and quantified reasons to close. If others in the community, or other districts, choose otherwise, then, yes, the district should provide leadership -- but to the right end, not merely for its own sake. If constituents object to a board decision, it's no guarantee that the school board is wrong, but a pretty good sign that there's something wrong. Community members' input does matter, and administration recommendations should be viewed with a critical eye, not rubber-stamped. And finally, it is crucial to recognize that the state of Illinois has not established mandates but guidance, and that schools' divergent reopening decisions are not that some are defying the state but that there is more latitude for interpreting the guidance than some would acknowledge.
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: The district clearly made efforts to serve students affected by the pandemic disruptions, for instance, through the provision of hot spots to students without internet access, food distribution due to the shutdown of the hot lunch program, and so on. In addition, some of the failures cannot reasonably be laid at the feet of the school, both due to the difficulty of adapting quickly and the state mandates, for instance, to give all students grades at least as high as the grade students had earned up to the point of the shutdown. However, lack of information from the district makes it difficult to know where there have been failures (in addition, of course, to the fall shutdown generally speaking) -- the doubling of failing (and other non-passing) grades clearly indicates there are problems but this is papered-over by the district. Parents have reported anecdotally that IEPs were abandoned and services were not provided.
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: While it is commendable that the district has learned from its mistakes in the fall and is nominally open for all students who wish to attend, the nature of the in-person vs. remote experience has meant that most students continue to elect remote learning, even to their detriment. Students report that teachers still teach from home, or, if at school, direct their attention to the webcam rather than in-class students, and that whether students are encouraged or discouraged from attending is haphazard. Students report overly restrictive rules regarding student socialization which, ironically, may do more harm than good as students choose to socialize with others in their cars instead. The restrictive "six-foot rule" has resulted in waitlists (officially denied by the district but reported by parents) because of insufficient capacity at two schools, and has made school attendance isolating and lonely. At the same time, studies now indicate that students are at less risk attending in person than remotely, and teachers are at no greater risk than community members in general, and that the six-foot rule is arbitrary. Consequently, the issues above must be remedied as soon as possible.
Q: What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A: School sports decisions must be data-driven. Illinois is a clear laggard in this regard, but at the point the best that can be said is that there is no lack of data to demonstrate whether there are any sports in which students are actually at risk from close contact. At this point, nearly all school sports have now reopened, so the question turns to masking and to what degree mask-wearing is reasonable and appropriate or whether it provides sufficient benefit to justify the difficulty playing while masked; as well as questions of appropriate quarantine lengths for positive tests of students. Generally speaking, state guidance is more restrictive with respect to sports and district discretion is less, but I would nonetheless advocate for taking the least restrictive approach consistent with the data.