Bloomington-Normal parents say they’re feeling anxious, guilty, and very uncertain as they begin to make decisions about whether to send their kids back to school or keep them home this fall.
Unit 5’s decision deadline was originally Wednesday but has now been pushed back to Aug. 4. That's also the District 87 deadline.
“All the parents I talk to are just agonizing,” said Janice Malak of Normal, whose son will be a sixth-grader in Unit 5. “Everybody is just trying to make the best decision for their own family. And I support everybody and every one’s decision, because there’s no perfect decision here.”
As a sixth-grader, Malak’s son would only be in school two days per week even if they chose the in-person option. So they’re leaning toward remote learning, possibly supplementing whatever self-guided online classes are offered by Unit 5 through its vendor, Edmentum, with other materials. One of their many considerations is the risk of exposing Malak’s parents to the virus, or her husband’s grandfather (in his 90s).
Yes, her son needs the social aspect of school. But she doesn’t want it on her conscience if he gets sick, or he gets someone else sick.
“They keep telling us the rates are low in children. Well, maybe they’re low in children because they haven’t been in school. We don’t know,” said Malak, a Heartland Community College professor who will teach from home this fall.
Leslie Gully of Normal has a third- and first-grader at Sugar Creek Elementary.
Gully is torn. Her kids love school; her oldest is literally counting the days before she can go back. But Gully, who owns her own home-based sewing business, also wants to be considerate of teachers who might be safer with fewer kids in class.
“At the same time, I don’t want (my kids) to stop loving school. It’s a tug we’ve been having back and forth ever since the plan came out,” Gully said. “So far, we are leaning toward sending them (in person). But it’s a guilt I carry now, because I’m asking their teachers to be at risk for extra students just by sending them.”
Paxon Edge of Bloomington said he considers in-person vs. remote as a choice between two bad options. Like Gully, Edge thinks it’s just a matter of time before changing conditions force everyone to learn remotely—like it or not.
Edge said his family chose remote learning for his third-grade daughter, in part because he and his wife are “lucky enough” to be able to keep working from home. They also wanted to free up space at school for kids whose families don’t have that luxury.
Still, working from home while helping your kid learn remotely is no walk in the park. Many parents are scrambling to piece together child care to help them decide.
“It’s a balance,” Edge said. “We’re not entirely sure what we’re getting into with this fall remote learning. We may have to adjust her doing school after one of us gets off work. So we’ll see, and adapt.”
Lack of options
Other parents don’t really have a choice.
Tracy McCoy of Normal is a high school English teacher at Ridgeview. Her husband is a K-12 librarian in the Deer Creek-Mackinaw school district. They both need to report to work in August.
That means their sons (ages 8 and 6) will be attending school in-person too, also at Dee-Mack.
“Since my husband and I will be going out and interacting with a lot of people each day, that really affected our decision,” McCoy said. “Especially since my husband is going to be in the same school building sometimes as my kids, it’s just kind of like, well, we’re gonna be out there anyways. I don’t know that they’re really going to be exposed to anything we’re not already exposed to.”
Some students also feel like they don’t have much of a choice.
Megan Parent is an incoming junior at Unit 5’s Normal Community High School. She is one of nearly 600 people who signed a letter to Unit 5 leaders raising concern about the lack of remote learning options for honors, Advanced Placement (AP), or dual credit students.
Unit 5’s original reopening plan did not offer honors or dual credit classes through Edmentum (the remote learning vendor). Parent said three of her AP classes are not available on Edmentum.
“It was kind of disturbing, honestly. For honors students, we have to choose between looking after our safety and looking after our education, and that’s even harder when the student is high-risk or someone in their family is high-risk. They kept saying we have options. But as an honor student, it doesn’t really feel like we have enough options,” Parent said.
They sent the letter to Unit 5 administration and met with Superintendent Kristen Weikle on Monday. Parent and fellow high schoolers Dhruv Rebba and Avani Rai said they’re optimistic after that meeting that Unit 5 will be able to come up with a better solution.
Unit 5 said it's in "uncharted waters."
"Dr. Weikle spent much of the past week talking with groups of students, parents, and staff members. She answered questions and continues to address concerns," the district said Tuesday on Facebook. "Unit 5 expects to provide more information to address questions that have been raised, primarily related to how courses not available through Edmentum can be offered."
The AP/honors letter was one of many circulating in the community related to the reopening.
Another letter says Unit 5’s existing remote-learning (online) plan is inequitable and hinders “students from being successful academically or prevents them from obtaining academic scholarships, athletic scholarships, or having the services they need to help them learn.”
Yet another is a five-page list of questions related to the reopening, addressed to Unit 5 and District 87 administrators and school board members. Juliet Lynd wrote that one; she has an incoming junior at University High School in Normal, and a freshman at Bloomington High School.
“I can’t imagine how it will be safe, and I wasn’t thrilled with the online option as well,” said Lynd, an Illinois State University professor. “So I started writing down all of my questions.”
Unit 5 and District 87 have begun to answer some of those questions. Both districts have posted lengthy FAQs online (Unit 5 FAQ | District 87 FAQ). Several parents interviewed by WGLT said they still didn’t have a good feel for what the Edmentum experience will be like.
Lynd’s sons are adamant about wanting to go back to school in-person.
“I know (what) they want is the pre-pandemic experience. And I don’t see how that’s going to be possible. I don’t think that’s what they’re going to get,” Lynd said.
Lynd hasn’t decided what they’ll do. She said everyone's safety is the most important factor.
She noted that last spring, it wasn’t her choice when the governor closed the schools and moved everyone to remote learning.
“When it becomes my decision to say, ‘Some of your friends are going back to school, but I’m keeping you home,’ we’re headed toward a different kind of rebellion. And I’m concerned about that."
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