The parents of students who attend Beye Elementary School, 230 N. Cuyler Ave. in Oak Park, are mobilizing support for a widely revered fifth-grade teacher who they believe may be facing termination.
Parents said Patrick McAndrew, a Golden Apple Award winner who has been at the school for roughly two decades, has not taught their children since District 97 returned to classrooms for hybrid learning on Feb. 1. Since then, they said, their children have had three substitute teachers.
The parents said neither district nor building administrators have told them specifically why McAndrew has not returned to the classroom.
“We had been asking if he’s OK, because we were genuinely concerned,” said Wendy Roderweiss, whose son is in McAndrews’ class. “[Beye Principal Jennifer Schemidt] reached out to students and said he was in good health, but can’t return to the classroom right now and that’s everything we’ve been told. Everything is confidential. We’ve been completely in the dark.”
In an email response, D97 Director of Communications Amanda Siegfried said “the District’s practice is not to publicly comment on pending personnel issues to preserve the confidentiality of administrative investigations and respect the privacy rights of employees.
An attempt on Monday to contact a union representative at Beye was unsuccessful. The situation involving McAndrews could come before the D97 school board at its next meeting on March 9.
Multiple parents have said that they learned from other teachers that McAndrew may be on the verge of termination, because of an issue regarding his use of paid sick days while he was traveling to Nepal, where his family lives, earlier this year.
“If they fire him for an administrative infraction, it would be a grave injustice,” Roderweiss said. “He is one of the champions of education. He means so much to so many people and what he is teaching our kids about being lifelong learners and embracing the diversity of the world is incredible. I just can’t believe this is happening. It’s so surreal. As if the year wasn’t weird enough already.”
Roderweiss said she and other parents would like the administration to “give us some clarity on what is happening” and for a “timeline of what to expect” in the next few weeks. In the meantime, Roderweiss said, she laments the quality teaching her son is missing out on while McAndrews remains on leave.
“Even when he was in Nepal, which has a 12-hour time difference, he was teaching remotely, in the middle of the night,” Roderweiss said. “He was doing virtual field trips with students, showing them different parts of the city. They were getting to see the world through their teachers’ camera.”
Samina Hadi-Tabassum, a D97 parent who is running for the school board in April, said her twins are both in McAndrews’ classroom. Hadi-Tabassum said McAndrews would go above and beyond for his students.
“He wants to come back and teach, he wants to be with the kids,” she said. “His greatest love is kids. And he is one of the smartest human beings I know. I feel like my children are getting a college-level education with him.”
Hadi-Tabassum said, in addition to calling and writing letters to board members and various media outlets, parents may also considering even more measures.
“I think there should be a march,” she said, when asked about other measures she and others were considering.
Dan Burke, who served as a D97 school board member from 2003 to 2007, said McAndrew taught one of his children. McAndrew also helped facilitate the elementary theater program at Beye.
“He created a love of theater in kids that carried on with them when they went to Julian,” said Burke, who wrote a letter to Wednesday Journal in support of McAndrew. “I also knew him as a board member. He was just a notable teacher for how strongly he was revered by parents and students.”
Burke echoed other parents who believe that, if the alleged infraction involves paid sick days, as many people familiar with the situation suspect, then McAndrews’ 20 years at Beye and his 35 years as a teacher of such high regard have earned him the right to remain in the classroom.
“I wonder how this is affecting the other teachers in the school and how morale is around this,” said Jessica Daley, whose oldest child is taught by McAndrew. “Beye is known for great teachers and I have a fear that, if this is a wrongdoing to a senior level teacher, we will lose other good teachers.”
Deborah Levine, the former PTO president at Beye who also has a child in McAndrew’s class, said the beloved teacher’s absence has created “unnecessarily instability in the short-term.
“We did our parent teacher conference with a substitute who had been in the classroom for three days,” Levine said. “It was unkind to the substitute to do that. I can’t help but think that this might impact the morale of other excellent teachers. This is really confounding and unfair to Mr. McAndrew. He has had a long history as an excellent teacher.”