GLEN ELLYN – Betsy Kateyiannis-Dale's son is a junior at Glenbard East, an IEP student who is in special education classes for a learning disability.
She believes remote learning is failing him.
"It is not for him," Kateyiannis-Dale said. "He needs a structured classroom. These kids need to be in school."
Kateyiannis-Dale's situation is unique, but her frustration is shared. Across Glenbard Township High School District 87, with four high schools serving predominantly Glen Ellyn and Lombard, and in schools throughout the area, many families are fed up with school in front of a computer screen instead of a classroom.
District 87, like many suburban districts, began the school year in remote learning, citing the rising number of COVID-19 cases as its reason for postponing the start of in-person learning in a hybrid model.
Recently, though, some districts such as Batavia Public School District 101 and ElmhurstCommunity Unit School District 205 have begun the gradual transition back to school. Half of St. Charles Community Unit School District 303's students could return by Oct. 19 after a rally calling for students to return to the classroom.
District 87 parents such as Kateyiannis-Dale want the same and will gather at 6 p.m. Sept. 28 at the District 87 Administration Center in Glen Ellyn for a "Students are Happier in School" rally. The school board meets that evening at 7 p.m.
Kateyiannis-Dale, who attended a similar rally in Naperville on Sept. 21, said her son is just not getting the service he needs. He has attention deficit disorder and focus is a problem. Both Kateyiannis-Dale and her husband work, so nobody is at home to watch their only child during school.
"Twenty-five hours on a [computer] screen [per week] is too much," Kateyiannis-Dale said. "They need social interaction with their teachers."
Cyndi Covelli, whose daughter is a senior at Glenbard East, sees concerns from multiple perspectives.
Covelli, who teaches sixth grade in a school near Chicago, has her own frustrations with the shortcomings of virtual learning.
"From the side of teaching, I see kids disengaged, turning cameras off, doing who knows what they are doing," Covelli said. "They are not answering questions, the teachers are doing all the work. They are just not getting the same experience from school as they would in school."
Covelli's daughter attends the Technology Center of DuPage for emergency medical technician training, but wonders how a child could possibly have hands-on education in front of a computer at home.
"How can students do a science lab from a computer? How can you learn to intubate someone, welding – there is only so much you can do in front of a computer," Covelli said. "None of this is best practices of learning. Seventy-five percent of people learn by doing, and they are not doing anything."
Covelli sees and hears of children struggling socially and emotionally, being sad, depressed, crying, acting out.
"It's failing the kids on so many levels," Covelli said.
School districts such as District 87 said remote learning would be a better experience this fall than in the spring.
Kateyiannis-Dale has found the opposite to be true.
"It is not different than the spring, it is actually worse because it's livestream," Kateyiannis-Dale said. "They have to sign in at that time. They're in one class 70 minutes, then the other. He is on a computer all day long. And it is more homework than normal."
The district has said it will continually monitor COVID-19 rates and metrics provided by the state and county health departments to determine when its in-person hybrid model can begin. The next review is scheduled for Oct. 13.
On Sept. 11, the coronavirus disease risk level in DuPage County was changed from blue to orange, indicating warning signs of increased COVID-19 risk in the community.
In that announcement, the DuPage County Health Department reported that there were 89 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people reported in the last week in DuPage County, an increase from 77 new cases per 100,000 people the previous week.
However, District 87 parents see more students in Elmhurst returning to school this week and are angered by their leaders' resistance.
"If it was about COVID, none of the schools would be reopening," Kateyiannis-Dale said. "This superintendent is not giving us the real reason why. He wants to make the decision without the board's vote. He is not listening to anybody. He is arrogant and none of them have kids in school anymore. They don't understand what students are going through."
District 87 school board member Jennifer Jendras' daughter attends Glenbard West.
District 87 Superintendent David Larson remains confident the schools will move to a hybrid model shortly.
"While we are receiving positive feedback about our remote e-learning, our desire is to launch the in-school portion of our hybrid schedule in the coming weeks," Larson said Sept. 22 in a statement. "We continue to have concerns with key DuPage County Health Department COVID-19 metrics, particularly the incidence and positivity rates, which are in cautionary status.
"I am confident that as each of us, and especially our students, follow safety precautions [mask, social distancing, washing our hands, etc.], these metrics will shift downward and we will be able to begin our in-person hybrid schedule soon."
Covelli said administrators and board members are not fulfilling their mission to encourage the best learning they can.
She is discouraged, but said parents like her have to keep fighting for their children and be voices for teachers who are afraid to speak out.
"We don't want anybody to get sick, but if everybody is safe doing what they are doing, this can be done," Covelli said. "Our kids need to be back in school. My daughter, she's doing OK. But I'm not accepting OK."