GENEVA – Parents in Geneva District 304 are continuing their pressure on the school board to regarding a return to in-person learning, but this time, the goal is to force officials to allow them to be involved in a Thursday planning meeting.
Parents have picketed and spoken out at school board meetings since the board voted Jan. 11 to go to full remote on Fridays instead of alternate Fridays in the hybrid learning plan.
Parent Jean Smith, an organizer of the march, said the meeting is “to show us all what they have to plan for with covid regulations.”
“It’s for all stakeholders, but the only way parents can participate is by submitting questions a day beforehand,” Smith said.
“There is no parent participation. … We asked for some form of representation, some sort of survey. Anecdotal conversations and emails – it’s not a full temperature-read of the community,” Smith said. “This meeting is a pacifier to all of us begging and pleading to have some say in this. … We want our kids in school.”
In an email response, Superintendent Kent Mutchler stated that, “The intention behind the live stream of the meeting is to be transparent regarding our ongoing planning and discussions regarding the evolving nature of the pandemic and its impact on our capacity to provide in-person learning to our students.”
“It is an open meeting in a virtual format that allows the community to submit questions or comments up to 5:30 p.m. on March 4. We hope that families will see this as an opportunity to have their voices heard and to receive answers to some of the common themes that have arisen this year,” Mutchler’s email stated. “We have thousands of parents in this District, and while answering each individual question may not be possible, this meeting is intended to demonstrate that we are listening to their concerns, thoughtfully attempting to provide insight, all while continuing our work on our goals to provide quality educational opportunities for students in a safe environment.”
The rally and march begin at 5 p.m. starting at the Geneva Garden Club Park, 35 N. River Lane, proceeding west on State Street to Seventh Street, then cross to return on the south sidewalk back to the Fox River.
D-304 task force meeting
In a notice on the district website called “Task Force for Educational Planning in COVID-19,” a joint team of representatives will meet from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday in a live-stream planning meeting where they will provide answers to submitted questions and frequently asked questions regarding the current upcoming school year.
“With new CDC guidelines, vaccinations and a downward trend in COVID-19 data, families have questions and concerns regarding Geneva 304′s plans for the current and upcoming school years,” the notice stated.
Questions or comments should be submitted at forms.office.com.
To watch the live-stream meeting, visit www.geneva304.org.
“As our joint team of representatives has shared previously, Geneva 304′s planning strategy is focused on the work of many groups, and we meet regularly to plan around efforts to maximize in-person education for students in a safe manner,” according to the notice.
“These decisions are complex and include a measured approach that is focused on educational goals and outcomes as well as COVID-19-related guidelines and data. It is essential that each decision works within the physical, financial, and cultural circumstances unique to our district,” the notice states, and it is signed by Mutchler, School Board President Taylor Eagan, Geneva Education President Kevin Gannon and Geneva Support Staff Association President Leann Enneking.
‘You need parents’
Smith said when the district offered a hybrid learning plan with alternate Fridays, parents chose it “and they altered the plan they gave us.”
Smith said the district based its learning plan – hybrid or total remote – on surveys beforehand.
The surveys showed 80% of parents favored having their children be in the hybrid plan and 20% full remote.
“What are they planning with – based on what numbers? … They are planning with no numbers,” Smith said.
School officials have defended their decisions by pointing to low incidence of coronavirus in the schools and wanting to avoid an outbreak.
“We have asked what that number (of cases) is. Define an outbreak,” Smith said. “I need definition. I see zero cases as of Thursday.”
Geneva teachers also favored the full-remote Friday change – 52% chose that option in discussions, GEA President Kevin Gannon had said – Smith insisted that parents should be surveyed anew.
“I respect their input,” Smith said. “Let’s get input of other teachers in school – which is the parents. This isn’t the year of just the teacher. You need parents, caregivers. … We are an equally important part of our children’s education, more so this year than any other year. … It’s not us vs. them. … Hear us, I’m speaking on behalf of large numbers of people.”
Smith said if a survey showed support for continuing the hybrid learning plan and all-remote Fridays, “I would be silent.”
Smith said as the community is opening up in the next phase with the library open, people planning vacations, sports teams are playing and traveling, school should follow.
“The community is alive. Our schools are not,” Smith said. “When did we allow ourselves, as a community, to have every other profession keep us moving and living life and we can’t ask the same thing for our schools? … We have the audacity to ask the schools to open and we have been labeled ‘the crazies.’ … Our children deserve to be in school.”