Across the country, parents are demanding more aggressively that schools reopen, including high schools. They're frustrated with slow bureaucracy on school reopening plans, obstinate teachers unions and pick-and-choose "science" to justify closed buildings. They're worried about their kids' mental health.
The Jan. 7 death by suicide of Glenbrook North High School student Dylan Buckner in Northbrook, Illinois, is just one example of why parents are concerned. Buckner's father in a Tribune interview said his son's isolation and lack of school activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to his struggles.
"I would argue, and I believe strongly, that Dylan's death is not going to show up in COVID statistics, and yet absolutely it's a COVID death," Chris Buckner said.
Las Vegas-area school officials moved quickly late last year to get schools reopened after noticing a spike in suicides and an uptick in a student mental health monitoring system. Eighteen students had died by suicide as of December. The superintendent of schools, Jesus Jara, wanted to move quickly to get kids back into their school routines.
"Every day, it feels like we have run out time," he told The New York Times.
Where's the sense of urgency for high schoolers in Chicago, still at home after almost a full year?
Also from The New York Times: "The parents of a 14-year-old boy in Maryland who killed himself in October described how their son 'gave up' after his district decided not to return in the fall. In December, an 11-year-old boy in Sacramento shot himself during his Zoom class. Weeks later, the father of a teenager in Maine attributed his son's suicide to the isolation of the pandemic."
And yet, Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union still don't have a plan to get high school kids back in school, even part time. They began negotiating this week, far too late.
Many private schools, meanwhile, throughout Chicago and the suburbs have been operating on at least a hybrid basis all year. And no, those schools aren't limited to areas of Chicago protected from high numbers of COVID cases. Almost every ZIP code in Chicago since last May where public and private schools coexist has experienced high positivity rates at one point or another.
So there is no excuse as to why Chicago high schools have been closed for in-person learning for so long.
Same for suburban high schools, including in Evanston where parents formed a coalition to pressure school administrators to reopen for in-person learning. The high school recently began allowing some activities on campus for athletics, art workshops and student exercise including "mindfulness practice experiences in a meditation studio or other spaces." So yoga in school, yes. Algebra, no.
"Our kids are hurting. The failure to resume in-person learning at Evanston Township High School or even to provide credible, consistent metrics for its resumption is simply not acceptable," parent Valerie Kimball, an Evanston pediatrician and part of the coalition to reopen schools, said in a statement. "A crisis is brewing, not just an educational crisis but one that threatens the physical and mental health of Evanston Township students."
School administrators say they are working to bring students back after spring break. But by then, the year will be almost over. The teachers union president in the district, GionMatthias Schelbert, said the decision to send students back to school is "not putting students first, and not putting education first, but is putting white privilege first."
The school's minority enrollment is around 55%, according to the Illinois State Board of Education. The teachers are around 68% white.
The pandemic has further illustrated the struggle: In too many public school districts with bloated bureaucracies and heavy-handed teachers unions, the adults come first. The kids come last.