Kaneland parents call for action, transparency from school board in contentious meeting Monday

MAPLE PARK – Chris Bateman held a hand-written list of questions from his 8-year-old daughter as he addressed the Kaneland School Board.

Bateman, an Elburn resident, referenced a previous public speaker’s call for a town hall-style meeting for the board to participate in to explain to residents its learning plans moving forward.

“I think that’s a great idea, but I’d take it a step further,” Bateman said to applause from the audience during the second round of public comment opportunities to the Kaneland School Board meeting on Feb. 22. “Please have the town hall with the students: explain some of the things to the students because I can’t anymore.”

“Here’s the questions that my daughter wrote,” Bateman said. “...An 8-year-old in the third grade, and I can’t answer her questions as her parent:

“Number one, ‘Why do we have to wear masks if we’re six feet away? That’s not what the news says.’”

“Number two, ‘Why can we touch each other outside [during recess] but not inside?’”

“Number three, after recess, they [staff] clean the balls, but why don’t they clean the playground equipment?’”

“And the last thing...’Why can’t we just go back to school, except for Wednesdays?’...consistency,” Bateman finished.

Numerous Kaneland parents spoke at length, some cut off for time allowance purposes, to get their message and pleas across for transparency, board action and accountability for Kaneland district students to return to full in-person learning.

Currently, the district is utilizing a hybrid learning schedule that allows most students two or three days a week of in-person learning.

The current model and plan moving forward for the district, evidently, isn’t cutting it for hundreds of parents.

Kaneland Go Foward- Parents United, a Facebook group comprised of Kaneland parents, has submitted a petition advocating, among several areas, returning to full-time, in-person learning by April 5. As of Feb. 22, it has 878 signatures.

“The petition was very clear in what parents wanted and why,” Sugar Grove resident Kim Harner said. “Children are being negatively impacted academically, emotionally and mentally by their isolation and their lack of education in the A/B model. You will hear parents talk about their experiences tonight.”

“There is no plan in place for a full-time, in-person return to school for the Kaneland school district during Phase Four [of the state’s coronavirus mitigation plan],” Harner continued.

Other parents spoke of their personal experiences concerning their children and hybrid learning. Some described experiences of their students with a disability within their Individualized Educational Plans, while others spoke of balancing full-time jobs and related challenges while trying to be active in helping their kids with school work.

“My kids miss school,” said Janine Zejnilhodzic, a self-described graduate of Kaneland High School and has two students in pre-K and second grade. “...The weakest are just falling further behind. We can dress it up. We can dress it up and pretend ‘Oh, we’ll just help them along’...yes, everyone’s correct: They have moms, dads, grandmas, who knows, at home [teaching].”

“I’m doing it for my own son. I’m coaching him through reading where he thinks he’s a failure,” Zejnilhodzic continued. “He hates it. He tries so hard and you watch a little boy, and his heart just completely breaks in two because he can’t decipher between certain sounds. And, he knows he should be able to.”

“...He needs to have a teacher; I’m not it. I said that before. I try so hard, but I still have to be a mom,” Zejnilhodzic said to applause from the audience. “...I’m not saying it’s just teacher’s jobs, right? It’s not. We’re a community. We all have to work together to educate these children. It’s just so hard to hear so much frustration from so many people out here.”

Based on a future learning data survey sent to Kaneland students and families, out of 2,491 responses, 86% preferred full-in-person learning five days a week for the 2021-22 school year. For hybrid learning, 8.1% selected that preference, with just shy of 5% wanting the fully-remote option.

Board Vice President Ryan Kerry asked the board if there would be a “drop-dead date” as to when the district will know what its learning plan is for the upcoming fall.

“I will bring that to you,” Superintendent Dr. Todd Leden replied to Kerry, but did not offer any specifics to parent attendees, which drew some laughs from some in the audience. “I will let you know what that date is. Because we need to; yes, I will bring that to you.”

“...You need to let us know,” Bateman later said in his remarks, which drew more applause.

The district’s Director of Educational Services K-5th grade, Sarah Mumm, and Director of Educational Services for grades six through twelve, Patrick Raleigh, provided the board with a lengthy presentation on the pandemic’s impact on grades for the first semester across all three levels of schools, which ended Dec. 18.

The complete breakdown, by grade level and subject, can be viewed here.

For example, based on Kaneland eighth grade iReady scoring data, which is an online assessment for math and reading proficiency, reading and math scores were down compared to last year’s performance for those at or exceeding grade level standards. Compared nationally, however, Kaneland appears to be exceeding.

Kaneland eighth grade students earning failing grades, however, appears to be an area of concern.

“...Even though we have a larger number of failures at eighth grade, our students are learning when we compare them to their peers across the country,” Raleigh said.

Yet, in eighth grade English alone, combining students in both hybrid and remote learning, nearly 15% of students are failing.

“But, for the eighth graders [studying English], [approximately] 15% of our kids are failing?” Kerry questioned.

“Yes,” Raleigh replied.

At the high school level, the district says 1,160 students are instructed within the hybrid learning model, while 163 students are fully-remote learners. The district reports 190 students earned a collective 393 failing grades – with 81 students earning two or more failing grades.

“[The] failure rate of remote students is almost double that of hybrid [students],” the presentation reads.

Math and English, evidently, are two subjects that high school students failed the most. Across freshmen to seniors, a total of 107 students earned a failing grade in math. Freshmen lead the pack with 42. In English, 85 students failed, with 34 failing grades coming from sophomores.

The school board could review finalized learning plans for the district in June, which will have its first day of school in August. Several parents voiced displeasure in the planning timeline.

“...I just want more answers. I’m a parent,” Zejnilhodzic said. “Just more open communication, please. Because we’re trying our best on this side, too...the level of worry is real high. I want to see my kid succeed; we all do.”

Jacob Bartelson

Jake is a full-time sports reporter writing primarily for the Kane County Chronicle covering preps. His collective work is featured across several Shaw markets and platforms, including Friday Night Drive and Bears Insider. Jake began full-time in 2017.