Chanting “open the doors” and holding signs that said “Schools, not Screens,” a group of parents and students rallied for Crystal Lake High School District 155 to reopen schools for in-person learning outside Prairie Ridge High School on Tuesday.

Those at the rally expressed concerns involving the toll remote learning has taken on the students mental health, saying they’re stressed and overwhelmed.

District 155 Superintendent Steve Olson said he’s had a number of emails and phone conversations with both parents and students, and the district surveyed families and staff to see how their remote experience has been.

“We continue to focus on making sure students and staff are safe,” Olson said.

Tara Stavropoulos, of Crystal Lake, has a freshman daughter at Crystal Lake Central. Although Stavropoulos’ daughter’s grades are good, she still gets frustrated.

“It's very socially isolating,” Stavropoulos said. “There's obviously internet problems. There's technology issues.”

The technology hiccups that the district have faced are ones other schools are dealing with as well, Olson said as both Zoom and Canvas, the district’s learning management system, are being used heavily right now, and there is a learning curve that comes with teaching new software to students and families.

Still, in the survey, Olson said, some students wrote that they appreciate the flexibility remote learning brings.

“Certainly they've been expected to be in classes, but they've also had some breaks in the day, that's allowed them to do some other things that they wouldn't normally be able to do,” Olson said.

While students have been working remotely, Olson said they have been able to reach out to teachers if they need anything, and collaborate in groups.

As a parent, Stavropoulos is concerned with not only the education her daughter is receiving, but also the social aspect of school she is missing out on.

“We're supposed to be social people. We're just existing, we're not living,” Stavropoulos said. “The kids need that interaction again, so they can start living life.”

Lottie Timberlake, who has a senior and sophomore at Crystal Lake Central, said virtual learning is just not working. 

“We're robbing them of not only the education, but we're robbing them of their memories,” Timberlake said. 

Dominic Timberlake, a senior at Crystal Lake Central, said not seeing his friends puts a damper on his day.

“It just makes me not as motivated to do anything,” he said.

Joseph Timberlake, a sophomore, said he hasn’t seen some of his friends since schools first closed in March.

“I miss them,” he said.

The district is slowly letting some students back physically in schools, such as special education students, Olson said. This week, they started letting those involved in hands-on courses in buildings as well. In the coming week, Olson said, the district will try to figure out a way to get students who have been struggling a little more than others in the building for some additional assistance as well.

They all have to wear masks and social distance, Olson said.

Even before COVID-19, District 155 had focused on being aware of the social and emotional needs of students, Olson said, and moving forward, the district will work to ensure students get the support they need to come out of this on the other side.

District 155 originally was planning on having a hybrid learning model, where students would be physically in school for part of the week and remote learning for the rest of the week, but ultimately decided to have kids be in school virtually to start off the school year. The target date to go to hybrid learning is Oct. 13, with a final vote on moving to this learning platform set for Sept. 29. Families still would have the option of staying remote.

Cary resident Monika Gwiztz said children are missing out with remote learning.

“The kids are starving, basically,to get back to some kind of a normal life,” she said. “It's not healthy for anybody.”

On the same day as the rally, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported 1,466 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 20 additional deaths.

This brings the state’s total number of cases to 264,210, with 8,332 people who have died since the pandemic began. 

The North Suburban region, which contains McHenry and Lake counties, has seen six days of positivity increases and one day of hospital admission increases.

Markus Pomili, a senior at Marian Central High School, a private school in Woodstock, said he has talked to his friends at District 155 who aren’t happy with remote learning.

“We need to help each other, we need to make sure things change here,” Pomili said during a speech. “We need to be back in school. We need to learn, our kids need to play sports.”

Marian Central High School recently had to switch to remote learning until Sept. 14, after two students tested positive for COVID-19. Pomili said they now are in hybrid learning, and that there’s a noticeable difference between seeing his peers in-person and seeing them in remote learning.

“Being in person, you get to see all your friends, get to talk with teachers, and actually get to be personal with the teacher,” Pomili said. “Online, it's not the same ... people lose focus real quick, and some people don't even pay attention at all.”

McHenry County