Brian Lawton: 2021 candidate for Libertyville District 70 board
Seven candidates for four four-year seats
Occupation: Stay-at-home parent
Civic involvement: I assisted at the ground level with March For Our Lives Vernon Hills in addition to volunteering for a local candidate for two elections. On a smaller scale but no less important, we chose our sons' preschool (Libertyville Cooperative Nursery School) in part because of the opportunities they provide to volunteer in the classroom regularly.
Q. Why are you running for this office, whether for re-election or election the first time? Is there a particular issue that motivates you, and if so, what is it?
A. A position on the school board has been on mind since my first son started school. My initial thought was to run in two years (with both my children advancing through school) but with current events being what they are, I moved my timeline forward. I knew there would turnover on the board this year and while I believe our schools are strong, there is always a next level; so why not try to be a part of getting there? Before I made the decision, I had concerns because four of the five candidates I knew to be running were, and still are, campaigning as a slate. This troubled me as a parent because one of the main benefits of utilizing a board of seven is the ability to have seven distinct voices. From what I knew at the time, I felt that their majority hold may not result in the best board representation of all our district parents and children. Putting all that together, I made the decision to enter my name into the race.
Q. How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A. For their work early on in this school year, I think our board gets a high C, low B. They made a difficult choice in starting remote as our schools, staff, and many parents weren't quite sure how in person would work in the face of COVID. As the year progressed, the grade slipped drastically for me. We watched as re-opening metrics thresholds constantly changed, sometimes after we were asked to make decisions on our children attending hybrid or remote. Parents felt as though were constantly in the dark as to how decisions were being made, and while the board was letting Dr. Barbini make decisions, they were not providing him consistent direction. Once we went to a hybrid and virtual model and issues presented themselves, the board and superintendent appeared outwardly to move very slowly towards addressing those problems for both the hybrid and virtual students. As other districts have shown, steady and consistent leadership can go a long way whether staying remote, going hybrid, or full in person.
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. My role as a board member in confronting the pandemic would be to stay focused on the education of students in the safest environment possible. While the question is presented as A, B, or C, I don't think these three options are mutually exclusive. As we have seen nationwide, people have very different opinions on what will work for our schools and every one of us can pull articles and studies to confirm our initial opinion. Adding to confusion, we have had official recommendations change depending on who is in charge at the time instead of purely on data. That said, I believe when it comes to school safety there will be people with more knowledge to provide. Often that will be the County Health Department, who present their numbers and recommendations for a reason. They are the local health authority and their knowledge needs to be weighed carefully. Providing leadership is key for me and I believe that includes the other two options, hearing wants and needs from all parents and children and the recommendations of the local health authorities, to arrive at a safe and complete plan to move forward with a confident position, popular or not.
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. I think that overall our district served the students adequately in these tumultuous times, with adequately being the operative word. While not opening their doors soon enough for some, they made sure to work towards getting at risk students into the buildings for some instruction. They offered e-learning centers for those families that needed them due to lack of internet or for family assistance. While there was a technology curve, our teachers put in the work to make sure that their students had the opportunity to learn outside the classroom. That said, I think that more effort could have been made within recommended safety guidelines at multiple times during the school year. The priority should have been providing more access to in-person learning for our most vulnerable students such as Kindergartners and first graders, those struggling to thrive educationally in a virtual environment, and students with special accommodations in their learning plans while simultaneously working on a plan for equitable education and a safe return for all. We all want our kids in school full time and that may skew some opinions but with that option off the table at the time, our district did serve our students.
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 I am still concerned that we are not following some of the safety recommendations outlined, namely the social distancing aspect, I can still be grateful for the information we will have going into next year. With our K-5 schools now opening for full day with a virtual option and our middle school going to an AA pod for Monday Tuesday, Virtual/cleaning Wednesday, and BB pod Thursday Friday, we will have very localized and specific information to go off of going into the spring. For the start of the 21-22 school year, I would ask that the administration use this information to see if and how we can safely work towards offering more in person at our middle school and help provide assurance that our K-5 schools are safe to attend. Make sure that data is highly visible and easy to access. On the same token, if the data shows problems these last few weeks and if vaccine efficacy issues present themselves, we can still use that data to our advantage. We can then plan out more robust options for virtual learning while focusing on expanding e-learning centers and personal instruction for those students who need intervention.
Q. What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A. As a prospective K-8 board member there is little to nothing I can do that will affect high school sports so I will keep this brief. As a community member I would hope my elected officials would go with the current guidance from the National Federation of State High School Associations which then allows (in our case) the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) to give their recommendations. Parents and student athletes will be passionate about their sports and officials should listen and weigh all this when arriving at how to move forward in each community (based on local spread) and which sports are in question.