The Discussion Continues to Rage

The discussion continues to rage in parent forums about whether we should be going back for in-person schooling. Apparently, many suburbs near us are back to hybrid already. If it’s true that Oak Park is staying remote longer than other districts, it’s interesting to me WHY that is.

– one odd thing about Oak Park is that it has a higher percentage of people with secondary degrees per capita than any other town in America — I wouldn’t be surprised if people here are generally more educated and more aware about COVID and its risks than the general public; Oak Park also historically has a LOT of citizen involvement with local government, for better or worse, so in theory, that could lead to more science-based decision-making.

(I know there are some pediatricians and other science folks advocating for our going back to school, but I also know lots of pediatricians and science folks who think it’s too early. I’d like to put them in a room and have them argue it out. My own husband and I disagree on risk assessment here; he’s more risk-averse and conservative than I am re: health issues.)

– another factor is that we border Chicago, and many of our residents work in the city, often in low-income areas that are hard hit by COVID, so we have to pay a lot of attention to transmission rates outside Oak Park itself, which is not true for many suburbs

– and a third is that we have a historic commitment to mixed income housing (50% of Oak Parkers live in multi-unit housing, which is certainly not typical for most suburbs) and a commitment to desgregation (which I suspect leads to more kids in public schools than a lot of other suburban areas, and more crowding in lunchrooms, hallways, etc.)

I’m not saying that we’re necessarily right to stay remote and those suburbs are wrong — their circumstances may be different enough that they can go back safely sooner than we can, especially if they have a nice financial cushion that they can immediately spend down for improving HVAC, getting in decent PPE, hiring more aides and subsidizing orgs like Hepzibah, etc.

But I think we need to be careful not to just look at other suburbs and say, “They’re going back, so we should too.” The literal numbers of kids in classrooms matters a lot. How you manage hallways matters a lot. The fine-grained specifics of all of this are going to be key.

I do think our schools should do more to combat mental health / socialization concerns, and I hope that’s in their plans. I gather they’re already doing small in-person cohorts for the severely developmentally disabled kids, who need one-to-one support? I’d like to see that expanded in coming months, if possible.

One question I have is whether it would be possible to simply have parents petition for their kids to go back in-person, rather than trying to impose a one-size-fits-all hybrid approach on the entire district. I’m super-curious how many parents would ask for that — we wouldn’t.

Our 8th grader and 5th grader will be staying remote until the end of winter trimester for sure, even if we’d have to pull them out of school to do it. If that’s true of 80% of families, then maybe the 20% who want to be in-person for winter trimester *could* be safely accommodated with current resources.

I haven’t seen the parent survey results, but more importantly, I don’t think the question has been phrased that way. If I were advocating on this issue, that’s the critical question I’d be pushing for.

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