By Chris Fox

For The Elmhurst Independent

The Elmhurst Community Unit School District 205 Board held a regular meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 12 at the District 205 Center, 162 S. York St. All seven board members attended the meeting, which was the board’s first meeting of the new year. The meeting took place one day after district students returned to a hybrid form of instruction that offered a blend of in-person and remote instruction. Nearly all of the district’s students had been receiving fully remote instruction since October 2020.

Musicians honored

The board recognized the several District 205 students who were selected for the Junior and Senior Illinois Music Educators Association (ILMEA) District 1 Festivals during the current school year.

Student speaks about Glenbrook No. suicide

The meeting’s public participation segment included comments from 10 community members. The board allocated a total of minutes for in-person public comments. Each speaker was allowed to speak for up to three minutes.

Luke Malaga, a senior at York High School and a member of the Dukes’ football team, was the segment’s first speaker. Malaga referred to the recent suicide of a senior football player at Glenbrook North High School. Malaga stated that canceling sports is having a negative impact on high school students. He noted that several other states are currently allowing high school sports.

Gov. JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) have placed a pause on high school athletics during the current winter season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some sports that traditionally take place during the fall season, including football, are scheduled to be played during the spring season of the current school year. That season is tentatively scheduled to begin in February. The IHSA winter sports seasons, however, have not begun.

Malaga asked the board and District 205 Superintendent David Moyer to understand the plight of high school athletes in Illinois. He urged the board and Moyer to fight to allow the state’s high school athletes to play their respective sports.

Parents speak out about in-person instruction

Other speakers during the meeting’s public participation segment included parents of district students who urged the board to return to fully in-person instruction. One parent noted that there have not been any COVID-19 related deaths in DuPage County among residents 19 and under. The comments from parents also noted that public and private schools in the area are offering fully in-person instruction. The comments from parents also stated that the lack of in-person instruction has taken a negative toll on the mental health of students. One district parent who spoke stated that remote instruction hasn’t been effective for many children. Another speaker who urged the district to return to fully in-person instruction said that two days per week of in-person instruction (which each student receives in the hybrid model), with school days ending by 1 p.m., was unacceptable. That speaker also criticized Max Schoenberg, a York math teacher and the president of the Elmhurst Teachers’ Council, stating Schoenberg hides behind a Facebook page filled with self-serving propaganda, and does nothing but fight the return to in-person learning.

York principal talks about EOS

The meeting also included a presentation from York Principal Shahe Bagdasarian about Equal Opportunity Schools (EOS), a Seattle-based organization. The mission of EOS is to ensure that low-income students and students of color have equitable access to academically intense high school programs. Bagdasarian told the board he highly supports the EOS program, which he utilized in his previous position as the principal of Glenbard East High School in Lombard. Bagdasarian told the board that some low-income students and students of color have never been encouraged to take an Advanced Placement (AP) course in high school. He said the EOS program helps schools gather information about their students. School administrators use that information to recruit students for various AP classes. Board members stated that they support the idea of the EOS program. Bagdasarian said York plans to start implementing the program during the 2021-22 school year.

Accounting firm offers presentation

The meeting included a brief presentation about the district’s comprehensive annual financial report for the year ending June 30, 2020. Andrew Mace of Wipfli—the district’s accounting firm—gave the presentation online. The audio quality of Mace’s presentation was extremely poor. Mace said he was concerned that the Illinois state government could push its share of Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) back to the district. Mace said that as of June 30, 2020, the district’s proportionate share of the net OPEB liability was about $73.7 million. The state’s proportionate share of the net OPEB liability associated with the district was nearly $100 million.

Discussion continues about Spanish instruction

The Jan. 12 meeting featured a recommendation from the district administration to permanently discontinue elementary Spanish instruction in grades 3-5. In the fall of 2020, the administration recommended suspending elementary Spanish because of staffing challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The board asked the administration to review the recommendation in January. In addition to recommending that elementary Spanish be eliminated for the remainder of the current school year, the administration recommended that Spanish instruction be eliminated at the elementary level, beginning with the 2021-22 school year. The recommendation will be an action item on the agenda for the upcoming board meeting on Jan. 26.

According to the administration, the elementary Spanish enrichment program is not a prerequisite for middle-school Spanish, nor does it advance proficiency in the language in any meaningful way. Families interested in becoming bilingual have the opportunity to take part in the district’s two-way, dual-language Spanish immersion program.

Additionally, the district noted that there are state-required health standards. Those health standards used to be included in science standards. The district plans to adequately address its health standards at the elementary grade level and is interested in increasing the focus on social/emotional learning standards in grades K-5. Under the district’s plans, time and resources would be reallocated from elementary Spanish to those two areas.

Board members indicated that while they support the discontinuation of elementary Spanish, they would like to have some option for children in grades 3-5 to experience enrichment in Spanish or another language.

Discussion of family survey

Providing a brief COVID-19 update during the meeting, Moyer stated that the district is hoping vaccines for educators will be ready in about two weeks. Moyer also said that the district’s recent survey indicated that 24 percent of families were interested in taking part in voluntary testing. That figure is nowhere near the 60-percent threshold reportedly needed to warrant an effective testing program.

Board member Courtenae Trautmann noted that only 32 percent of the district’s families who were contacted for the survey responded at all. She said that of the amount who responded, 76 percent supported mandatory testing. Trautmann, who said the support level of 24 percent was misleading, said she was disappointed by how few families responded. She said testing could help get the district back to fully in-person instruction. Moyer noted that a non-response to the survey would default to an answer that a family was not interested in participating.

Board member Jim Collins asked if the district was working on getting more students into school buildings for in-person instruction before every faculty member has received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. Moyer said that the district is looking at steps for expanding capacities in the buildings, but he wasn’t sure how that could be accomplished in the current situation. Trautmann suggested that the district compromise on the adherence to social distancing of at least six feet. She added that the community believes school buildings are safe.

Board member Christopher Kocinski also stressed the importance of the district doing everything possible to get more students into school buildings for more in-person instruction. Collins urged the district to look at other nearby districts, as well as districts in other states, to see how they are able to offer more in-person instruction.

Purchase of The Abbey property approved

Board members voted unanimously during the meeting to approve the purchase of The Abbey from the Elmhurst Park District, with a purchase price of $1.6 million. The building will serve as a permanent home for the district’s Transition Center, which serves students with disabilities between the ages of 19-21. The property is located at 407 W. St. Charles Road, just west of York High School. The Elmhurst Park District Board approved the sale at its meeting on Jan. 11. The building, which will also be used for other school purposes, will undergo renovations and should be ready for use by the school district in the fall of 2021.

The board will hold its next regular meeting on Jan. 26.

 

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