HIGHLAND PARK, IL — Township High School District 113 Board President Lizzy Garlovsky apologized Monday on behalf of the board for comments she and other board members made last week about frustrations with some how some teachers have handled the district's shift to remote learning so far.
"Speaking as, especially, a District 113 parent, and as the president, it was especially reckless for me to make any comments about my own experiences," Garlovsky said in a letter to the community. "I want to specifically apologize about my misstatement that I have not received any communication from teachers. That is not true, and I misspoke at the meeting when I said that."
At the board's May 11 special meeting, Garlovsky said some teachers are not responding to emails from students for weeks on end, and some parents were very upset with the way e-learning had been implemented.
"It is all we hear about. It is literally all we hear about," Garlovsky said. "So it's now become — unlike most other issues that I've dealt with that have become big issues since I've been on the board, where there's maybe a couple of loud voices — this is not about a couple of loud voices."
Garlovsky asked district administrators and principals of Highland Park and Deerfield high schools if they could address the shortcomings.
"What can you say to these parents right now?" Garlovsky asked. "What can you tell them about, you know, can we take some responsibility? Can you take some responsibility that this just hasn't been done right, that we have not done a great job and that we're going to do better and how we're going to do better."
The school board president pointed out 97 percent of the district's budget comes from local property taxes, more than in most other districts in the state.
"All of the teachers need to be aware that whatever happened before, and whatever used to happen, however things used to work in District 113, it may not work that way anymore," she said. "Just like things may not work the same way in any industry going forward in this middle of, or however long we're going to be in the pandemic situation, or after."
Garlovsky said she recognized it was not her job to develop the remote learning curriculum.
"What we're not doing a good job of is communicating to our families and to our community — who are writing the paychecks — we are not doing a good job of communicating to them why we're failing, and that's why everyone I think is so upset," she said.
The board president said her own son, a DHS senior, had been performing "terribly" in remote learning, but she had not been contacted by any teachers other than a couple emails because he failed to log in.
"I'm not upset it about it for me, because he's a senior, whatever," Garlovsky said. "But if this is what all of the kids are experiencing in some degree, it's very upsetting for our district."
Board Member Mike Perlman said there were teachers in the district who were doing great jobs — or good jobs considering the circumstances.
"The vast majority of our teachers are doing a great job, full stop," Assistant Superintendent Mike Lach interjected.
"I know you don't want to hear the feedback, but it's time you started to hear it. Because you're not hearing it well, and our community is recognizing that, and I'm here to represent our community — that's what I was elected for," Perlman said. "You need to hear that a large, large number of your teachers are not doing well at it. Not a majority maybe, I don't have the exact numbers, but I can tell you that I have a student myself who hasn't been graded in three of her classes since March 12, has not had any contact outside of email with at least one teacher and almost a second teacher."
Perlman said every member of the board, just like every member of the community, and every teacher, has had to adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We have given every flexibility possible to our teachers in order to help them achieve during this time, and many came through in a big way. But many have failed miserably, and there's a whole lot of in between," Perlman said.
"I don't know what's going on, but lots of teachers are MIA," he said. "Lots, many are MIA during this process and, boy, we gave extra sick days, we didn't demand any synchronous learning time, we didn't demand any certain check-ins with students, we didn't demand lesson plans be up a day in advance." He said teachers needed to be flexible and, if necessary, work to figure out remote learning during the summer regardless of the preference of their union.
Board Vice President Gayle Byck said expectations for a future remote learning plan had been raised, and she would not vote to approve it again.
"I've gotten an earful from the community throughout this remote learning, and I stand by what I've been hearing and what I've been experiencing as a parent," Byck said.
Board member Jodi Shapira agreed the district had to make major advancements in e-learning during the nine days of teacher work between the May 22 final day of classes and June 5 end of finals.
"If we don't do something spectacular with it and make some huge change, it was an absolute waste of time," she said.
Board member Daniel Struck echoed the sentiment, saying it seemed common for every student to have at least one teacher struggling with the transition to e-learning.
"Parents are ready to respect the teachers who are trying to learn and improve the lessons and get the hang of it," Struck said. "But it feels like everybody, when I talk to other parents or even to my daughter's friends, everybody has somebody who's just not connecting at all, and that's not acceptable."
Robert Edelman, a district parent, provided the only public comment of the remotely conducted board meeting. In a voicemail message, he expressed disappointment in the board and administration.
"E-learning has been terrible compared to local schools such as Stevenson, which has daily Zoom classes," Edelman said. "It is inexcusable how inept the e-learning has been for our children and this will forever be, I believe, a stain on our school district."
Following the meeting, four Deerfield High School seniors penned a joint letter to board, saying the board members had "belittled" the teachers.
"We were disappointed in your attacks against the people that are simply doing their jobs, and doing them well. We were disappointed that you would go out of your way to lash out at people doing the absolute best that they can during these incredibly unprecedented times. We thought it was entirely uncalled for," said Griffin Minster, Ty Melnick, David Brostoff and Brooke Wheatly.
In her apology, Garlovsky said she and other board members were sorry for "the overwhelming sense of disappointment and despair felt by the teachers, their students and other members of our community caused by many of the statements that we made."
The board was due to meet again Monday in a regularly scheduled meeting. The presentation of the results of a survey on remote learning was on the agenda.
"Our role as Board Members does not include the evaluation of teachers and we do not work directly with them on instructional matters," Garlovsky said. "While we do play a role in supporting the programs the teachers implement, it is inappropriate for us to comment publicly, or privately, about any teacher or teacher's performance, or to direct the teachers in any way. This applies to any employee of District 113."