D161 board debates closing schools for elections

After a lengthy discussion at the Jan. 22 meeting, District 161 school board members voted to close schools during the March 19 primary election and decided that students would learn online instead.

The meeting started with an audience comment from Rob Calhoon, the district’s orchestra director. “I believe shifting from e-learning, even if only for one day, assumes that all our students are starting e-learning days from the same place.”

Calhoon told the board that he believed many students in Flossmoor lack access to the necessary resources for effective e-learning. He also said that e-learning days were inconvenient to parents and unfair to students who care for younger siblings during the school day while their parents work.

“In-person learning promotes equity for our socially and economically diverse student body,”  Calhoon said. “I believe that perceived obstacles to in-person learning can be overcome, and you do not need to shift March 19 to an e-learning day.”

Superintendent Dana Smith agreed with Calhoon that the spring election would likely have a low turnout but that Cook County had informed his office that they would be using the north gym at Parker to collect ballots. 

“What [Cook County election officials] say, we have to do,” Smith said. “So they say they’re using that north gym, and then you have people in your building, and you would have no control.”

Smith explained that the district is allowed some e-learning days that count towards the number of state-mandated school days students must attend. Substituting March 19 with an e-learning day might prevent the district from adding a day at the end of the school year in the event of more snow days.

Several board members expressed doubt about the effectiveness of online instruction for elementary-age children. Smith said that he believed e-learning was the best option for the next election day and that he would try to find some information that gave the board a better idea of e-learning outcomes in the district.

One significant factor influencing school rankings is attendance. The board recognized the challenges of keeping kids in school while accommodating the community with a polling place at Parker. David Linnear was the only member to vote against the calendar change and e-learning for March 19.

As they prepare the calendar for the next school year, the board is considering e-learning for the municipal and school elections on April 1, 2025. Another option is shifting the days off required for Casimir Pulaski Day and Yom Kippur. The district could recognize these holidays immediately after spring break to avoid having students at school during voting.

By law, the district will be closed on Nov. 5 for the presidential election. 

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