Hundreds attend rally calling for five days a week of in-person learning

Geneva parent Ashlee White continues to wait for her kids to return to school full time.

“Our kids are still not full time,” said White, a member of the group Geneva Parents United for Students, which has been advocating for in-person learning five days a week. “Hybrid is not full time.”

White was among hundreds of people that attended a rally in downtown Naperville on Sunday calling for five days of in-person learning. Parent groups from Geneva, Indian Prairie, Kaneland, Naperville, Oswego, Plainfield and St. Charles school districts participated in the rally.

Geneva parent Emily Erickson, who is also a member of Geneva Parents United for Students, is hopeful that kids will soon receive more in-person learning after the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois State Board of Education on Tuesday released revised public health guidance for schools.

Social distance for in-person learning is now defined as 3 to 6 feet for students and fully vaccinated staff.

“Maintaining 6 feet remains the safest distance, but schools can operate at no less than 3 feet in order to provide in-person learning,” stated the Illinois State Board of Education. “Unvaccinated staff should maintain 6 feet social distance as much as possible because adults remain more susceptible to infection than children. Strict adherence to social distancing must be maintained when face masks are removed in limited situations and monitored by school staff.”

Erickson criticized the district for not having plans ready to go following the new guidelines.

“We’re still waiting,” she said. “They sent an email that said they received the guidelines and they will be working on it.”

Tonia Groezinger, one of the founders of the group Kaneland Go Forward – Parents United, also attended the rally. She said five days of in-person learning should be an option for parents.

“I’m not saying that has to be the only option, but it needs to be one of the options to get kids back in school,” she said.

Groezinger said there is no reason for schools not to fully reopen.

“The guidance has changed and the teachers have been vaccinated,” she said. “It’s time to bring the kids in full time if that’s what the families want.”

The rally also featured a number of speakers, including Oswego Community Unit School District 308 School Board member Brent Lightfoot.

“We want five full days, not five half days, five full days,” Lightfoot told the crowd, which then started chanting, “five full days.”

He accused teachers unions of working against families.

“But you know what? We’re a union too. We pay union dues, they’re called taxes. And our kids are paying too, in mental health issues and failing grades.”

He added that he was not speaking on behalf of the board.

“But I sure wish they all agreed with me,” Lightfoot said.

State Rep. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, who is running for governor, also spoke to the crowd. He has criticized Gov. JB Pritzker’s response to COVID-19.

“Our kids need to be in school,” Bailey said. “Gov. Pritzker and the political elites, they failed us, they failed our schools, they failed our students, they failed our future. And it’s time to hold them accountable. They put special interests above the interests of our schools and our students and our children.”

Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas urged those attending the rally to take their schools back.

“The hostage crisis had to be over,” Vallas said. “The only way you free the hostages is by getting people elected to the school board who are going to advocate for kids. It’s as simple as that. That’s where the rubber meets the road.”

Eric Schelkopf

Eric Schelkopf covers St. Charles and writes entertainment stories for the Kane County Chronicle.