After weeks of teachers expressing fear of returning to the classroom amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the DeKalb District 428 school board approved by consensus on Tuesday remote learning to start the 2020 school year.
“Look, we’re in a tough situation,” DeKalb Classroom Teachers Association co-president Mary Lynn Buckner said. “The DCTA recognizes that at home is not the best learning for kids, but at this time we feel it’s the safest. My reaction is the board did the right thing.”
Five of the board voted yes on the consensus call, with Jeff Hallgren and Jeromy Olson not answering.
Hallgren said that although the teachers’ requests for safety was “duly noted,” he said he felt that remote learning was not an acceptable answer. He said results from the spring were very discouraging at all levels – he said he teaches at Elgin Community College and saw firsthand what the limitations of remote learning are, adding that they are doing remote learning in the fall as well.
“I’m just saying good intentions and the road to hell,” Hallgren said.
Toward the end of the discussion, director of curriculum for the district Kim Lyle said that while a plan for remote learning is in the tentative stage for the district, it is going to look vastly different from the spring.
“We are going to have to educate families really fast on what we did in the spring is different from the fall,” Lyle said. “Expectations from [the Illinois State Board of Education] are that there are 2½ hours per day of in-person synchronized learning and a total of five hours of instruction. That’s a big change. When we looked at parents’ surveys asking for more face-to-face time and teachers are gaining more confidence. That’s a big difference.”
Hallgren said that remote learning is not going to reach the most disadvantaged children in the district.
“So I definitely feel that teachers feel safe, it’s important to me,” Hallgren said. “We’ve had people back at work, essential services throughout all this. And I feel that teaching and teachers are an essential service. We have to figure out a way to deliver teaching to students. And teaching can only be done face to face with certain groups.”
Both Valerie Pena-Hernandez and Samantha McDavid raised concerns about a lack of testing locally for COVID-19.
Pena-Hernandez also said the whole situation is frustrating, but in the end the board can’t guarantee the safety of students, teachers and staff.
“I’ve heard teachers compared to grocery store workers and retails and restaurants,” Pena-Hernandez said. “But we’re sitting in a class with children we are coming in asymptomatic or sick and they can’t stay home cause the parents don’t have the means. It’s different than these other places. Classes are confined spaces and students by their nature want to come and be close to you.”
Olson pointed out that only four deaths in the county are in people younger than 50.
“Do we really think this is going to end after the first semester or second semester?” Olson said. “I feel like we’re stuck in a cyclical argument. Will people get sick? It will happen. But will people perish? I don’t think so. Some people might get sicker than others. It happens all the time and it’s unfortunate. But at what point do we as a board decide it’s safe? How long can we leave a child at home alone in front of a Chromebook?”
School board president Sarah Moses said it felt like the weight of the world was on the board.
“It was just a really hard decision,” Moses said. “But it’s about what’s doing what’s safest for everyone involved.”
The school board meeting started mostly with teachers expressing their concerns.
Buckner said after the meeting she was surprised by the decision to go remote given how the teachers made the same arguments last time when the board voted to go to the hybrid plan.
“We’re all wishing it was normal but this like forcing a square peg in a round hole,” Buckner said. “You can always make up academic learning, but you can’t bring back a life lost to this virus.”