Parents and students at Beye Elementary are growing increasingly anxious as they wait on the District 97 school board’s decision regarding Patrick McAndrew, a beloved fifth-grade teacher at the school.
McAndrew said on Monday that the board has scheduled a special session for Friday morning at 8 a.m., where it will decide whether to take up the district administration’s recommendation to terminate McAndrew over what people close to the matter said is a dispute over his use of paid sick days while traveling to Nepal, where his family lives, earlier this year.
McAndrew declined to discuss the specifics of his case and earlier this month the district declined to comment on what a spokesperson said is a confidential personnel issue.
Many community members had anticipated the board would make a decision on McAndrew at its regular meeting on March 9, but the matter was never brought up. McAndrew has been on paid administrative leave since late January.
Before the meeting, a crowd of about four dozen McAndrew supporters staged a demonstration outside of D97’s headquarters, 260 Madison St. in Oak Park. They held signs that read: “McAndrew belongs in our classroom” and “Stop punishing our children and work this out now!”
Ariel Schick, whose daughter is in McAndrew’s class, stood among the demonstrators to voice her concerns about how the Golden Apple Award-winning teacher’s absence has affected her child.
“This has affected my daughter’s mental wellbeing,” Schick said. “During remote learning he’s super-theatrical and cares about each child. And even in that environment, he’s been super successful. So they were really excited for him to be in-person and he’s just been missing and they’ve been told nothing.
“This has created so much anxiety among so many of the kids. My daughter has stomach aches before she goes to school now and her math scores have plummeted and they’ve had three substitutes this trimester.”
Maggie Testore, whose three children went to Beye, said she was at the demonstration to stand in support of parents and students who are directly affected by McAndrew’s absence.
“As I understand it, this is not an appropriate reaction to the situation,” Testore said. “My priority and the district’s should be the students of District 97. I do not feel that the students at Beye are being served. I’ve known Mr. McAndrew since 2008 and I know nothing other than the utmost professionalism, youthful exuberance and dedication to children. And that’s why I’m here.”
Maggie’s son, Matthew Testore, 22, said McAndrew was his fifth-grade teacher in 2008 and 2009.
“Mr. McAndrew has had a huge impact on my life and on a large number of kids’ lives at Beye,” Matthew said. “I moved to Oak Park in fifth grade, so I was entering school alone without many friends, didn’t really know the school at all or how to get around and Mr. McAndrew is such a caring, gentle soul that during my first day of class he assigned a classmate to show me around and kind of stick with me, be my buddy for the first week, and this classmate ended up becoming one of my best friends.”
Kate Cotter, one of McAndrew’s fifth grade students at Beye, said she’s been left in the dark about the teacher’s absence.
“I was really sad when I knew I wasn’t going to go back in school for fifth grade,” she said. “I’m in hybrid now, but I was still sad at the beginning of the year. Mr. McAndrew showed me and my classmates that this doesn’t have to be a super depressing time in history. He made it fun by making games for morning meeting and showing us creative ways to learn boring subjects like history and math. He’s just a really special person and I count myself very lucky to have had him and I really want him back.”