Racial equity advocates are deeply disappointed by the recent D200 vote to proceed immediately with the $32.6 million Phase I construction — a decision made unanimously and against the recommendation of District 200 administration. We ask that the board halt construction plans and consider the impact of the pandemic on our students, their families, our school, and this community.

The district’s financial consultant presented serious projected fiscal shortfalls that could cost the district up to $45 million in lost revenue by year 2025. This projection combined with other factors — including Illinois having the worst fiscal condition and lowest school funding in the nation — make future school revenues from property taxes and state aid most problematic and uncertain.

Surely, even the most privileged in our community must recognize that the pandemic has intensified local and national inequities in jobs, housing, food, and education — all of which impact our most vulnerable students and families, and our community.

D200 board members commented that new construction supported the district’s equity vision. They asserted that the project will rebuild and modernize the student learning center and cafeteria, add new science classrooms, improve some special education classrooms, and provide additional physical accommodations for students with disabilities.

Some of these changes — in the right climate — might be deserving priorities. Notably, this board has previously acted on behalf of our most marginalized students: enhancing restorative practices, hiring more teachers of color, and supporting curriculum equity.

Nevertheless, student needs impacted by longstanding race and class inequities and magnified by the pandemic went unmentioned in the recent decision to push on with construction spending.

Current articles by educators are replete with analyses of new and aggravated challenges related to the pandemic for students and schools. Our dwindling resources must be directed to student needs:

 Remediation to address lost learning for all and the widening equity gaps: extended school days and years, expanded summer-school options, tutoring, and compensatory services for students with special needs. 

 Support for teachers adjusting curricula, developing new strategies, amending materials, applying new technology, and implementing authentic, individualized student assessments to guide learning across settings.

 Services to address health and safety for re-opening: expanded nursing, social work, counseling, and psychological services; updated janitorial procedures and products; and health and public safety strategies. 

 Technology expansion and support for students, families, faculty, and staff during e-learning, reintegration into classrooms, and remediation. 

 Facility and classroom changes for re-opening: health stations; smaller class sizes; split attendance hours; and reconfiguring large meeting spaces.

While raising deep concerns regarding board priorities, we recognize and praise the efforts of faculty, staff, administration, and families for their support of students during this crisis. They and our children, however, need more targeted resources and support.

The $32.6 million construction project must be halted. We call on the D200 board and administration to make decisions with careful attention to the complete context schools, students, and families face. Responsible fiscal decision-making is paramount for realizing the educational mission of OPRF High School. Advancing a massive construction project ignores the unprecedented social, emotional, academic, and economic situations students and families now face.

Importantly, decisions on funding, programs, hiring, curriculum, and new construction must be made with the faithful use of an equity impact evaluation. The D200 Racial Equity Policy mandates the use of that protocol. A racial equity impact assessment lens is a central feature of implementation and accountability procedures that Superintendent Pruitt-Adams will soon propose for approval.

Finally, we truly hope all dire predictions are inaccurate and all concerns unwarranted. Our community, however, is responsible for this generation’s education. Now, during a pandemic, is not a time to gamble on behalf of our children.

John Duffy is a member of the Committee for Equity and Excellence in Education. Also contributing to this viewpoint are Oak Park Call to Action, Suburban Unity Alliance, Burcy Hines, and Wyanetta Johnson.

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