Maria Newhouse moved to Long Grove so her daughter could attend Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire because of its reputation for academic excellence.
But attending classes in a pandemic through Zoom video conferencing isn’t the ideal learning environment Newhouse, and other parents, had envisioned.
“Remote learning is not an education,” Newhouse said. “Zoom (is) for conference calls. You don’t educate children via Zoom.”
Newhouse was among a group of Stevenson High School parents and students who rallied Monday outside the school demanding the district resume in-person classes. They sought to put pressure on the school board, which meets Monday, Oct. 19.
Stevenson High School District 125, which has about 4,300 students and more than 700 faculty members, was among the first suburban districts to switch to only remote learning at the beginning of the fall semester.
At the time, Superintendent Eric Twadell said it was more palatable than the alternative of mandatory, 14-day quarantines for students or employees who contract the coronavirus in school, as well as for people who come in prolonged contact with them.
Parents called for a hybrid model in which families that don’t want their students to attend in-person can continue remotely, while other students have the option of learning in a classroom, each with their own dedicated teachers.
In a statement released Monday, district officials said if and when the school transitions to hybrid learning, “the quality of the teaching and learning experience that we can provide all students will drop significantly.”
Another factor giving officials pause is the severity of COVID-19 transmission in Lake County — one of 26 Illinois counties state health officials placed at a warning level for an increased risk of contracting the virus on Friday.
The county averaged 90 new cases of the virus for every 100,000 residents over the past week, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. The state target is an average 50 new cases or fewer, which Lake County has exceeded since the beginning of July.
Stevenson will be testing a new “Patriot Pods” program designed for students who would like to come together and study in small groups on campus.
“Over the next two weeks, we will be bringing students back to campus for specific and purposeful lab-based teaching and learning experiences that are better suited for in-person instruction, including courses in science and fine arts,” the statement read.
Newhouse said the pods idea is an effort to placate parents. She questioned why a wealthy district like Stevenson can’t manage in-person learning when its feeder elementary districts have switched to hybrid models.
“Stevenson is supposed to be a leader and hasn’t quite figured out in-person yet,” she said. “It’s a building with over 1 million square feet of space. There are so many schools that have managed to come up with an option that worked for those parents and students who want in-person learning. We want a choice. Teachers need to be in the classroom.”
Among those at the rally Monday was Paul Vallas, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools as well as the Philadelphia school system, and superintendent of others.
“Stevenson has the resources to go back. There’s no excuse,” Vallas said.
“… It defies the science. The damage that’s being done is severe.”
Isolation from peers has been the hardest part of remote learning, said parent Christina George of Hawthorn Woods, whose son C.J. is a freshman.
“He is definitely struggling,” she said. “He has no social experiences. He started a new high school with no friends and no opportunity to make those personal connections.”
George said C.J. had been looking forward to participating in marching band in high school, which hasn’t resumed despite the school offering some students contact days for athletics.
“For many kids, when they go to high school, they are looking to meet new people, get involved with things,” George said. “These kids they are struggling mentally.”
Dr. Marina Shakhman, a clinical psychologist and mother of three Stevenson graduates who was at the rally, echoed the concerns.
“There are massive costs to keeping kids at home,” Shakhman said. “SHS owes it to these kids to have them here.”
• Daily Herald staff photographer John Starks contributed to this story.