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March 19 election forces District 153 to schedule e-learning

Schools are routinely used as polling places. In District 153, James Hart and Churchill Schools will be polling places for the primary election March 19, over the objections of district administrators.

The Cook County Board of Elections has, in the past, notified school districts well in advance that schools will be polling sites. Not this time. When District 153 administrators balked at the notice received in January, they said ‘no thanks,’ but that didn’t matter.

Shelly Marks, school board president, reported at the Feb. 12 meeting that she told a county representative that “it wasn’t safe for our students and it impedes learning in the district.” The response she got was: “You do not have a choice. You will be a polling place.”

Marks said she’s bothered by the response because closing schools interrupts learning and it inconveniences families who will be scrambling for child care because children will be at home. District 153 declared March 19 will be an e-learning day.

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“I want people to understand, this is not a choice that we’re happy to make,” Marks said. “The safety and security of the adults and children in our buildings is the concern we have. We will absolutely not have strangers walking into our building when school is in session. It’s not going to happen.” Thus, schools will be closed.

The state allows a district to use up to five e-learning days in its school schedule. District 153 already used two e-learning days due to weather. This will be the third. Marks hopes there are no more emergencies. If the district goes beyond five e-learning days, the school year will be extended.

When the school board adopted its 2024-25 school calendar during the Feb. 12 meeting, two election days were part of the schedule. Superintendent Scott McAlister said the district was able to work around those days because it got enough notice, unlike the March 19 debacle.

All schools in Illinois will be closed for the presidential election on Nov. 5. In addition, District 153 schools will be used for the municipal election on April 1. That date was built into the district’s spring break from March 31 to April 6.

District 153 will open the next school year with two institute days for teachers on Aug. 19 and 20. Students will begin the new school year on Aug. 21.

There will be a short fall break on Friday, Oct. 11, and Monday and Tuesday, Oct. 14 and 15. Schools will be closed for a week in November with parent-teacher conferences Nov. 25 and 26, and Thanksgiving break Nov. 27, 28 and 29. 

Holiday break is Dec. 23 through Jan. 6. Lincoln’s birthday will be observed on Feb. 10, and Casimir Pulaski Day is March 3. The last day of school is June 4.

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