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Parents, students hold rally for return to schools

ella woltman photo 9 24 scaled
Photo by Dermot Connolly
Ella Woltman of Oak Lawn, and a freshman at St. Laurence High School in Burbank, spoke about the advantages of in-person classes rather than remote learning at a rally last Thursday in Crescent Park in Orland Park.
By Dermot Connolly
Hundreds of people from throughout the southwest suburbs attended an Orland Park rally last Thursday in a call to reopen schools and sports.
The event was organized by parents of students at Sandburg High School and local high schools and elementary schools.
Since the rally, the District 230 administration announced that the three high schools it oversees will be moving to “Stage 2” of its District 230 Proud reopening plan on Monday, Sept. 28. This means that about 25 percent of students at Sandburg, in Orland Park, as well as Stagg in Palos Hills and Andrew in Tinley Park will be attend on-campus classes each day, with the other days spent eLearning at home.
Students who choose to continue eLearning full-time may continue to do so. But attending in-person classes just one day a week might not satisfy some of the people at the rally, especially those holding signs proclaiming “District 230 Not Proud.”
“ Let them learn. Let them play (sports),” was the theme of the rally.
“ This is a movement that I am partially leading because I simply have had enough. E-not-so-much learning is a disaster. Period,” said Dave Ruggles, who organized similar protests throughout the Chicago area and served as emcee of the event. He suggested that other school districts follow the example of Lincoln-Way High School District 210, which has students on campus “before we lose a generation.”
“ Fall sports should be played now, like they are in other Midwestern states,” he said.
Orland Park resident Diane Devito, a Sandburg parent chief organizer of the event, described herself as a “concerned parent.”
“ We continue to put pressure on our local school districts. One day a week is not reasonable,” she said. “The Illinois Department of Public Health only issues guidelines; they are not mandates. Why do we continue to hear excuses rather than solutions? Six months into this crisis, our school boards have freedom to implement what they want.”
Her son, Luke, 17, and a junior at Sandburg, said he was looking forward to returning to the football field as well as the classroom, but his hopes were dashed.
“ When we were sent home March 13, we thought it would only be for two weeks,” he said. “eLearning has no social interaction with my teachers or students. There is no substitute for social interaction when learning. I can’t raise my hand or ask my friend when I have a question.
“ All these memories are being taken from us — no homecoming, no prom, no Friday night lights. I understand that the pandemic has changed things but we are smart, we can adjust and go back to school safely,” Luke added.
Oak Lawn resident Ella Woltman, a freshman at St. Laurence High School in Burbank, said she feels blessed to be allowed to attend classes in-person, a couple of days a week, as part of the hybrid system at St. Laurence, and feels public schools should offer the same.
“ This hybrid consists of two to three days of e-learning, so it can be done. Your administrations just need to push for it,” said Woltman, adding that sports should also be allowed.
“ If you’re playing volleyball correctly, it is not a contact sport,” said Woltman, who had hoped to play varsity volleyball this year.
“ We demand to have kids get an in-school education and to play the sports that they love again,” she said.
Students even younger than her also spoke, including Charlie and Lanie Jeblecki of Orland Park.
Charlie, a sixth-grader at Century Junior High in Orland Park, said he was looking forward to starting junior high and meeting all his new teachers and classmates.
“ I knew it would be a little different, but it has been two weeks and I am still sitting and staring at a screen for six hours,” said Charlie, who is already tired of the technology glitches. “School is not meant to be spent in front of a screen. I will wear a mask, I will wash my hands, I will keep my distance. I just want to go to school.”
“ I know I learn better in the classroom than with eLearning,” said his sister Lanie, a fourth-grader in Orland Park District 135. She said she is getting a lot more headaches and finds it hard to stay focused.
Ava Igmas, of Palos Hills, has a first-grader in Palos School District 118. She said that she doesn’t think her daughter is getting a lot of eLearning either.
“ It is terrible. She is bored,” she said.
North Palos School District 117, which includes Conrady Junior High School in Hickory Hills and several elementary schools, is offering in-school classes.
Peter Hennessy, of Oak Lawn, said one of his children graduated from Oak Lawn Community High School this year and missed out on a lot.
“ She was unable to enjoy the usual experiences last year, and I am afraid the same will happen to my daughter who is a senior this year.
“ The teachers concerned about coming back to class need to understand the importance of this,” added Hennessy. “It is no more dangerous than going to a store.”

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