Add To Favorites
U. of C. Lab School parents demand return to in-person learning, citing concerns for children’s learning loss, mental health
Chicago Tribune - 2/28/2021
University of Chicago Lab School parents are demanding a return to full in-person learning as soon as possible.
They’re concerned about children’s mental health, a reduction in education quality and lack of social development due to isolation. And the parents say they’re frustrated that the school has rolled out in-person and hybrid learning plans, only to backtrack without clear reasons.
Dr. Nausheen Zaidi, who has three children at Lab, said parents started a petition and protested last week because they felt that the school was not forthcoming. The breaking point came when plans were changed again a week before a section of the school was scheduled to return in person.
“We get information. We feel hopeful and then it gets taken away from us without any transparency,” she said. “We have been very patient and understanding with making sure that we unroll this safely.”
The school’s administration faces a teachers union grievance over its plans to return. As of now, third through fifth grades are scheduled to return to full-time, in-person learning with 5 feet of social distancing on March 29, according to a message David Magill, the school’s interim director, sent to parents last week.
Middle and high schoolers are set for a hybrid plan. Sixth through eighth grade students would rotate for a week of full-time school, while each high school grade would rotate on campus for two consecutive days, University of Chicago spokesman Jeremy Manier wrote in an email.
A decline of COVID-19 cases and uptick in faculty and staff vaccinations make the return to return to some in-person learning possible, the email to parents said.
“Lab has taken a cautious approach toward in-person education based upon the careful guidance of medical, health, and education experts as well as City, State and CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines,” the statement said. “We regularly evaluate new data and information to make decisions that we believe are best for our entire Lab community.”
Tuition at the Hyde Park school ranges from nearly $24,000 a year for half-day nursery to nearly $37,000 a year for high school.
The school’s nursery through second grade classes have been in person since the fall, with classrooms split into pods so there were at most 12 students per pod with social distancing between the children and the faculty, said Jim Catlett, Faculty Association president. Third grade through high school students have been remote learning this school year.
The school administration has announced multiple changes as it attempts to return to the classroom. In late January, the administration said that third through fifth graders would return for in-person learning Feb. 22, with middle and high schoolers returning March 8.
The administration and teachers union then met for two weeks to discuss plans for the return, but Catlett said the administration did not have precautions necessary to bring students back. The union filed a grievance Feb. 9, contending the administration was not bargaining over health and safety.
A week later, the administration told the union it would change third through fifth graders to a hybrid model because of new federal guidance, Catlett said. The Feb. 22 return was pushed back to March.
“We had these concerns that these safety decisions were being made unilaterally, without involvement from the Faculty Association,” Catlett said.
Dr. Jill de Jong, who has three children at Lab, said remote learning has been particularly hard for her seventh grader because he is unable to ask questions in his math class, so he has to wait until she gets home from Comer Children’s Hospital to catch up.
As a scientist, de Jong said she’s been looking at the data and reading papers on what’s happening at other schools, and she’s frustrated because the data shows that children can return to school safely with the right protocols that don’t need to be as strict as 6 feet of social distancing or waiting for teachers to have full immunity after the second dose of the vaccine.
“The amount of illness that children have suffered from this pandemic is orders of magnitude less than what adults have suffered,” she said. “The mental health, depression, anxiety, sleep disturbance, weight gain, a lot of the same things that my own children are experiencing, and then some, is just an epidemic. That’s another epidemic of mental health problems.”
Dr. Bethany Hodges, who has a 10-year-old and 4-year-old at Lab School, said that she and her husband, who also is a physician, were thrilled that their younger child has been able to attend school in person and has thrived. For her fourth grader, the saving grace is that she’s done remote learning with a classmate at each others’ houses.
“I feel like there’s this cognitive dissonance in my life now, right? Because I’ve come to work, I walk by the vaccine center that’s here at the medical center every day, and see this wonderful line of people coming in and getting vaccinated, my husband and I are vaccinated, I see a light at the end of this tunnel,” said Hodges, who works at Comer. “And then I see, you know, so many patients, children and teenagers whose mental health is really suffering.”
Like de Jong, Hodges believes the CDC guidelines are suggestions, not to be interpreted as strict rules. The school should be able to put in place policies that allow for in-person learning.
“The learning loss can’t be made up at this point,” Hodges said. “And then all of the mental health issues are, I fear, going to make us look back with regret and wonder why we let this happen.”
(c)2021 the Chicago Tribune
Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.