YORKVILLE, IL — Whether learning is in person or through a camera lens, there isn't a day that's gone by this month when school board members aren't being questioned for what they've decided is the right way for their students and staff to begin a new school year during the coronavirus pandemic. And many are asking themselves, is there truly one "right way" to go about this? After all, people and parents are making decisions they most likely never dreamed of having to make months ago, according to Parkview Christian Academy School Board President Jed Davis.
Patch reached out to Parkview Christian Academy after students and staff at the private Christian school in Yorkville returned to classrooms at both campuses on Aug. 19 for full time in-person learning. The academy's Upper Campus, for students in grades six through 12, is located at 202 E Countryside Parkway in Yorkville. The academy's Lower Campus, located at 201 W Center Street in Yorkville, is where students in preschool through fifth grade spend their school days.
When asked about this school year's admission numbers, Davis told Patch some families have chosen to send their kids into Parkview classrooms while others are choosing the homeschooling route. Some families are sending one or more children to Parkview, and keeping their other children home, Davis added.
One parent told Davis they enrolled their children in Parkview after realizing they want their kids to be able to do kids things, including play on playgrounds.
"Parents have had to make decisions of whether to have their kid be a kid, and Parkview has helped that," Davis told Patch. "I've got a senior, a freshman and a first-grader all at Parkview, and they've been having a great experience this year, all the COVID logistics aside."
Upon being notified of what area public schools and Parkview decided for this school year, some families chose to send their children to Parkview, while others took them out of the school, according to Davis. The board president added they've even had some families who were "hardcore" supporters of public schools enrolled their students in Parkview.
A breakdown of admissions numbers, according to Davis:
Up roughly 15 percent for high school enrollment
About even when it comes to the number of kindergarten through fifth-grade students compared to past years.
About 295 students attend Parkview, roughly 40 staff members
Class size varies from 10 to 20-25 per class. The average number of students per classroom is around 18. Parkview's first-grade class is "really large" this year.
Down one or two staff members, with four or five open positions listed online.
Down 55 students this year due to families leaving the state and homeschooling.
Added 75-79 students whose families sought alternate schooling routes due to "frustrations from public school plans."
Davis added that Parkview's openings for administrative positions are always a bit more challenging to fill compared to teacher positions because of the higher level of community involvement that goes into choosing administrators.
When asked what contributed to Parkview's decision to have in-person classes, Davis openly cited the school's tuition factor with Patch.
"One-hundred percent of our funds are tuition payments from families," Davis said, adding that therefore some have voiced feelings along the line of "I pay for tuition, so I want my children in school."
Davis also discussed two other main factors in their decision-making process.
" At the basic level, we feel that it's extremely valuable both from an educational perspective and social-emotional perspective that kids are back in the classroom," Davis told Patch.
In addition, Davis said they have a lot of flexibility thanks to the school's square footage.
"It's easier for us to comply to ISBE guidelines than perhaps a large public school," Davis said, adding that they're able to work with around 100,000 square feet, including "massive" exercise rooms currently acting as classrooms.
According to Davis, Parkview's unique square footage situation has played a big part in their extensive plans for abiding by state health guidelines during the pandemic.
"We had created our plans, had been working on them month after month," Davis said.
According to Davis, near the end of the school board's planning for what was to come, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) issued their lengthy back to school guidelines. Davis said he and Parkview's board members thought about what their plan was, including the square-footage for extra space between students and staff. ISBE's document ended up confining them, Davis said.
Back in June, an attorney representing Parkview Christian Academy in Yorkville wrote a letter notifying state officials that it won't follow recommended health and safety guidelines for reopening schools. This came just days after the State of Illinois released new health guidelines for faculty and students set to return to classrooms in the fall.
In the letter from law firm Silver Lake Group, Ltd., to State Superintendent Dr. Carmen Ayala of the Illinois State Board of Education and Dr. Ngozi Ezike from the Illinois Department of Health, Attorney Thomas DeVore claims the state officials failed to included any citation to the United States Constitution, Illinois Department of Health Act, Illinois School Code, or "any legitimate legal source" in resources cited in a 63-page "Part 3-Transition Joint Guidance" released to schools, colleges and universities across the state in June.
In addition, the letter sent on behalf of Parkview Christian claimed state officials failed "to reference any legislative act which delegated to each of your agencies in the authority to place such demands upon schools, parents or our children."
"We weren't trying to be political or give a muscle flex, it was that we want to let them know we plan to implement our own health measures," Davis said, adding that instead of calling Parkview or visiting, or doing a follow-up with the school to find out more about what their reality is in Yorkville, Gov. J.B. Pritzker filed a lawsuit against Parkview and two other schools.
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The lawsuit filed last month against Hutsonville Community Unit School District 1, Families of Faith Christian Academy in Channahon and Parkview seeks a judge's approval of the governor's order that students, teachers and staff wear masks or coverings over mouths and noses to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
Earlier this month, a circuit court judge granted the governor's motion for a temporary restraining order against Parkview, according to Davis.
"We were doing (following) 99 percent of the guidelines," Davis told Patch. "We aren't even against face coverings. We are pro-parent choice. Now we're masking up at Parkview because of that order. No one has checked on us in the past."
Davis described the ongoing situation as one that feels political and disheartening. A case ruling is expected within the next 30 days, according to Davis.
Davis told Patch there haven't been any confirmed coronavirus cases at Parkview this school year, and described other measures they’re taking inside the buildings.
According to Davis, Parkview teachers move from classroom to classroom instead of the students, in an effort to decrease traffic flow. Adjustments also include lockers positioned at the back of classrooms instead of in the hallways.
"More than 90 percent of families and staff members have been on board," Davis said. "Only a couple of teachers, really, have been nervous, but didn't leave, and are hanging in there with us. We've made accommodations for them."
Davis told Patch he's had board members from public and private schools reach out to him to talk about what's been working, and for advice.
"It's really good to be back in the building and back full time," Davis added.
>> More information on the 2020-2021 school year at Parkview Christian Academy
Illinois educators, parents and guardians: How has the beginning of the school year been in your district? Share your thoughts in the comment section or in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org