D97's debacle demonstrates ineptitude

Opinion: Columns

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Jenny Austin

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District 97 should be embarrassed by the debacle they have created in returning to school (in any fashion) this fall. I realize there are no easy decisions and no right answers, but their inability to plan and communicate clearly has caused an undue amount of stress on every family in this district.

The recent timeline illustrates this administration's ineptitude. On July 17, we received a binding survey opting into hybrid or full remote for the first trimester, due before July 23. Parents expressed concerns that they didn't have enough details to make an informed decision. On July 22, there was a special board meeting to provide information on the hybrid and remote learning models. At the 103-minute mark of a meeting scheduled for 120 minutes, Superintendent Kelley announced that the district was going full remote for the first trimester instead of offering the hybrid plan. Why was the headline buried? What's the purpose of a binding survey due on July 23 if you change your mind on July 22? What was the point of the first 102 minutes of the meeting? No new guidance was issued on July 22. State and federal guidance recommends reopening schools, not keeping kids at home.

Setting aside all of the challenges of a full remote program, this is not how a well-run organization communicates with its customers. And it's not how other school districts are handling the return to school this fall. The administration's hybrid plan was already significantly more conservative than the guidelines from the Illinois State Board of Education, and their new plan conflicts with the guidelines.

The administration has asked us to trust that their plan would be viable for two-career families. My daughter is on the younger side of the district's students and doesn't know how to log on to a Zoom meeting. Many young children don't know how to tell time, let alone read and follow a daily schedule. The notion that two-career families can do this without help is disconnected from reality. The administration knows this because only 21.4 percent of parents taking one of their surveys said they would be able to provide sufficient support on remote learning days.

Oddly, the administration rolled out leaders from local organizations willing to provide child care — then declares that it is unsafe to have students in school.

Is it any wonder that we have lost faith in the superintendent? This is the same superintendent who hired a consultant from Idaho to do a remote bus study in Oak Park. We moved here because of the quality of the schools, despite the high property taxes. In nine years, our property taxes have increased more than 35 percent and the quality of the schools has declined. Without a doubt, something needs to change.

I hope the school board will analyze the many examples of poor decision-making we have seen from the current superintendent and look for a replacement sooner rather than later. Besides, she's already looking for a new job.

Jenny Austin is a resident of Oak Park.

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