“Our Schools, Our Choice, Our Say.” District 204 Community Members Rally to Open Schools

Ben LeGrand

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On December 13, members of our community gathered to protest online schooling.

This past Sunday, Dec. 13, members of the District 204 community held a rally demanding the district reopen schools. Amidst the confusion and uncertainty of reopening the schools in 2020, the frustration and anger with the school board was palpable. With schools having been closed since March, parents, children and educators are feeling the strain.
Around 100 District 204 residents rallied at the door of the D204 headquarters demanding schools to be reopened and a response from Superintendent, Dr. Adrian Talley. The rally was held by the growing Facebook group and movement, “IPSD 204 Parents Advocating for Choice.” They are demanding an in-person schooling option.

Enough is enough. We want a choice… Our children belong in school. Not staring at a computer screen all day”

— Kavitha Sivanandan

“Enough is enough. We want a choice… Our children belong in school. Not staring at a computer screen all day,” said Kavitha Sivanandan, a D204 parent who is fed up by what she feels is a lack of response from the district. She was 1 of 10 speakers at the rally, including students, parents and keynote speakers Adam Russo, a therapist specializing in families and kids, and former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, and Superintendent of New Orleans Public Schools, Paul Vallas.
Families with students with special needs were heavily represented. The perceived lack of support for IEP plans which are personalized learning plans for students with special needs, and other benefits has made life difficult for many of these families. When asked what their main concerns were with the E-Learning situation, one family of a student with special needs who chose to remain anonymous stated, “It doesn’t work for us, especially with a special needs student… These kids are missing out on too many opportunities, academically and socially [sic].”
Julie Foster, a parent of a kindergartener with severe autism, spoke at the rally to voice her anger and concerns with the district. “When remote learning started, she lost all of her therapeutic support, speech, OT and PT. All of her educational support gone. Her IEP effectively dismissed.” They demand a response from the school board.
With the school’s hybrid learning plan pushed back 3 times throughout the year, frustration has only grown. The current date set for a hybrid schedule return is Jan. 25. The speakers called for a choice between in-school and online learning.
“There should be an opportunity for people to learn via Zoom or in-school if they want to. The benefits outweigh the risks,” said one District 204 student. They want the district to stand with the Jan. 25 date and avoid any more setbacks.
After the conclusion of the rally Vallas shared his opinions and overall knowledge of the situation. With nearly 20 years of experience in education, he believes that there is no reason schools should be closed. He also believes his own personal experience with another contagious disease, polio, shows that school can be done.
“When I was a freshman… we had a girl that had polio and we had synchronous learning with her.” He stated that this experience went well, and there was no breakout, even furthering his point. Vallas is also very critical of remote learning.
As superintendent of the New Orleans schools after Hurricane Katrina, he stated “Remote learning is not a substitute for in-school learning… When I took over in New Orleans schools after Hurricane Katrina, I had kids returning to classes almost a year after Katrina and they were lightyears behind. A lot of the high school kids never recovered.”
He was even more concerned with the younger children during these hard times. “For the youngest children it does damage… It is destructive.”
When asked how he would go about opening the schools with the virus around and teachers well being in mind, Vallas pointed to the lack of evidence that schools are superspreaders. “The schools are not virus spreaders… look at New York, a handful of students get infected, a handful of faculty get infected without any fatalities.”
He suspects the district and schools of ignoring the data. “The pros far outweigh the cons.” Vallas campaigns for reopening schools at many rallies like the one held for 204.
D204 is continuing with their hybrid transition plan with the date currently set for Jan. 25. The board discussed the hybrid model at the board meeting on Monday, Dec. 14.

This is part of an ongoing story updating the return of schools.