Most District 121 school board candidates praise pandemic response, plan
Most of the five candidates vying for four open seats on the Warren Township High School District 121 school board gave the district high marks for its response to the pandemic, but one challenger was critical of allowing students to return to classes in person.
Challengers Natalia Alvarez Martinez and Blake Thomas are on the ballot with three incumbents: Kathy Blair, who has served on the board since November and is seeking her first full term; John Anderson, a board member since 2005; and Paul Schulz, who has served one term and is seeking his second. The seats carry 4-year terms.
The district has begun allowing students back to the classroom two days a week on a hybrid model, with students having the option of remaining at home and attending class remotely. Beginning April 5, students on the hybrid model will be on campus four days a week.
Thomas said he believes students should return to in-person learning only when the entirety of the staff and a reasonable benchmark of students have received all the required doses of vaccine, or the district falls below the benchmarks for community spread.
"Remote learning is challenging, but students and staff will not be or feel safe until that point is reached," Thomas wrote in his Daily Herald candidate questionnaire.
Thomas said teachers are still waiting to be vaccinated despite the return to some in-person learning.
"This is as near to the definition of mismanagement that I can cite," he said.
Martinez gave the current board far better marks for its efforts during the pandemic.
"Every single person at D121 has worked hard to keep things running as smoothly as they can, and I am proud of everyone's hard work," Martinez wrote in her questionnaire.
She pledged to get students back to school in the fall, calling a return to in-person learning imperative.
"The negative impacts of e-learning ranges from academic stress, social-economic status, family dynamics, and damaging psychological issues," Martinez said in the questionnaire.
Blair wrote in her questionnaire that the return to school was "motivating" and said it would help students reacclimate academically, socially and emotionally. She did not raise concerns about more students being back in the classroom.
Anderson said regarding the pandemic that he feels the board did a great job in a difficult situation.
"The board kept the well-being of the students and staff as the number one priority," Anderson wrote in his questionnaire.
Schulz, who is the board president, did not return a questionnaire to the Daily Herald.
Early voting is underway for the April 6 consolidated election.