Like many District 200 parents, I find myself lost in the cloud of obfuscation which surrounds this simple question: When will our kids be able to return to some form of in-person learning? Any public comment on this issue, whether from the school board or the administration, conjures a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Steering committees, advisory committees, and subcommittees are being formed to “examine metrics” during an “iterative process.” No one believes this is progress. So what is the key? What are we missing here?

My guess is that D200’s teachers union is playing hardball. On some level, the teachers are refusing to return to in-person teaching. As evidence of this, just look at the statistic the administration presented to the board at the last meeting: 60 percent of teachers are reporting they are “unable to return” to in-person teaching, for reasons including child-care issues. For further proof, watch the administration and board members freeze, and then frantically backpedal, whenever a reference to “negotiations” is accidentally dropped in a public board meeting. 

As a lifelong Democrat, I support the rights of employees, including teachers, to join forces and press their interests. Where industry is organized, employees should be organized as well. Unions “bring justice and democracy to the shop floor.”  

Democracy, however, requires transparency. The citizens of Oak Park and River Forest elected our school board members, who employ our administrators, who are negotiating with our teachers. We have the right to know what is going on with these negotiations, and why a “return to school” option appears to be failing. However, we are told nothing. As a result, we are being held hostage by a patently undemocratic process.

I believe the public is entitled to an answer to one simple question: What will it take for our teachers to be willing to return to the classroom?  

If the board and administration would share with the public what teachers are requiring, then we can at least have an earnest public dialogue about it. If extra pay would motivate some teachers to return, perhaps the school board should make this a priority. If the teachers are requiring extra safety measures, the board could determine the costs. If the teachers are unwilling to return until the coronavirus is cured or a vaccine widely available, the board can discuss, in the public eye, whether this is a realistic or fair demand.

A central tenet of OPRF’s official school philosophy reads: “We believe trusting, collaborative relationships and strong communication establish a safe and respectful school community.” I’m asking the board to honor this philosophy, and be transparent with the public about the negotiations with the teachers union. 

We have fallen well behind other districts whose hybrid plans are well underway. Our community cannot hope to match their progress, or arrive at an informed consensus on this critical issue, if we are not being told what it will take for our teachers to return to the classroom. 

Flo Schumacher is a resident of River Forest.

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