How did Libertyville District 70 school board handle COVID? Candidates weigh in
The debate over when to return students to classrooms during the COVID-19 pandemic attracted an abundance of candidates to the Libertyville Elementary District 70 school board race this year.
Nine candidates are running for five seats -- one 2-year, and four 4-year terms -- in the April 6 election. Three incumbents chose not to run for reelection to their 4-year seats, ensuring a new look on the board.
For the two-year term, incumbent Wendy Schilling, a former Cook County public defender currently in private practice, is facing Lauren Marks, a pediatric speech language pathologist.
Seven candidates are running for four, 4-year seats: Angela Balanag an English teacher at Grant Community High School District 124 in Fox Lake; Callie Johnson, a nurse at Oak Grove School District 68; real estate broker Jennifer Kahn; Colin Lane, a field representative for a medical firm; stay-at-home parent Brian Lawton; Travis McGhee, a financial services executive; and Evan Williamson, an associate director with AbbVie.
Marks, Johnson, Lane, McGhee and Williamson are running as a slate called Parents Delivering Leadership, which has favored getting students in class sooner rather than later. They say they would restore "the student-centered focus to education we so desperately need."
Some of the other candidates said district administration was not getting consistent direction from the school board and communication with the community was lacking.
All five District 70 schools have offered some in-person learning since November. Starting April 12, full-day, in-person learning five days a week will be available to all students.
The Daily Herald asked the candidates how they thought the board has handled decisions on in-person learning.
Marks gave the board a 'D' grade and said the school year should have started with a choice of in-person and remote options. She said she began collaborating with like-minded parents concerned their kids would regress.
"The reality was and remains that remote learning is not equitable and simply does not work for many families," she said.
Schilling, who was elected board president late last year, said the panel deserves a B-minus. She supported starting the school year with remote learning, but hasn't been satisfied with the reopening timeline since.
"It was never the intention of the board or myself to not have the children come back." she said. "I believe we're listening but we're protecting and hoping to protect everyone."
Balanag agreed with early decisions to prioritize getting students who need special assistance back into classrooms, but the communication, pace and philosophy of the district was disappointing. She said there should have been a fluid plan to allow easy flow between remote, hybrid, blended and in-person learning, so schools could be as open as possible and adjust without disrupting schedules and teaching assignments.
Johnson said the board hasn't represented the community attitude. Schools were safe to open with "common sense mitigation strategies," she said.
"Communication to the community at all levels has been unsatisfactory and at times insulting to the students and parents the board represents," Johnson said. "The community was asking for accountability and received none."
Kahn said it's easy looking back to see things that should have been done better or differently.
"I think they did the best they could with the information at hand," she added. "Looking back, could it have been done differently? Absolutely. But I'm not going to pick apart what the board already did."
Lane said he was disappointed with the slow pace of in-person learning.
"I believe that the superintendent and the board should have really taken heed to what the community really wanted for their children," he said.
Lawton said the board made a tough choice to start the year remotely, but communication from then on was lacking.
"Parents felt as though (we) were constantly in the dark as to how decisions were being made," he said.
McGhee said the board failed by not getting students into class until November.
"The board failed to properly challenge, question and ultimately drive the administration to find creative solutions," he said.
"There's a saying that I always abide by and that's 'Failing to plan is planning to fail,' and I feel that's how our district operated this year," he said.