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Illinois School GradesEducation is a road to a better life. A quality education allows children to maximize their potential, and providing that for every child is one of the most important undertakings of state government.

But research shows Illinois is failing to live up to the promise of high quality or efficient education, as Illinois schools consistently spend more than neighboring states only to produce worse test scores.

Between 2003 and 2019, Illinois per-pupil spending was the highest among neighboring states, despite worse outcomes. Illinois spent between 8% and 25% more per student, only to fall behind every neighboring state on reading assessments according to the Nation’s Report Card. Similarly, all but two states, Kentucky and Missouri, outscored Illinois on math assessments.

To boot, all Illinois’s neighbors also boasted higher graduation rates between 2003 and 2019.

When benchmarked against each state in the nation, Illinois ranks 15th in per student spending, but falls to 27th in both math and reading assessments since 2003.

Fifteen states spend less per student while producing better results on the NAEP in both math and reading.

Read more here.

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300 Threats

Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300 school board President David Scarpino is shown speaking in a screenshot of Tuesday’s board meeting. (Courtesy of Shaw Media)

Since the start of the school year, Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300 Board members and employees have faced threats and insults from a small number of parents, board President David Scarpino said.

These “unacceptable” behaviors have included parents shouting profanities at staff and extending middle fingers to them “in plain view of students,” along with sending “disrespectful and threatening emails, voicemail messages and phone calls,” Scarpino said at this week’s board meeting.

To illustrate the seriousness of the issue, Scarpino read excerpts of messages sent to employees and board members aloud. Some complained about the district’s COVID-19 plan, masks and vaccines, and others threatened legal action against the district and teachers.

“I view you as scum,” one message said. “Scum that will soon be wiped from existing.”

“We are now at a crossroads. Are we going to have a major conflict on our hands? I have an entire army ready to bring the guillotine down,” one person wrote. “You’re about to receive a very eye-opening lesson.”

One message told the recipient that “a little accountability is exactly what you deserve, and I’m getting ready to serve it to you,” while another called someone a “corrupt little puppet.”

“I hope you’re sweating. I hope you’re losing sleep,” Scarpino read from one message. “And if not, you should be.”

Read more here.

Related: “Meanwhile, in the tony City of Lake Forest news…

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LF Mask

A September 13 board of education meeting at Lake Forest High School West Campus ended early due to some people who refused to wear masks.

A tense Lake Forest High School board meeting ended early after several speakers, including a nurse who referenced “Nazi tyranny” and 9/11, refused to wear face masks.

The Lake Forest Community High School District 115 Board of Education meeting took place on September 13 at Lake Forest High School West Campus.

Numerous people who spoke during the public comment part of the meeting refused to wear face masks despite being asked to by board members.

The majority of people who spoke at the meeting urged the school district to defy Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s executive order that mandates masks in all indoor spaces

One of the speakers, Lynn Ulrich, said she is a nurse anesthesiologist who has been practicing for 30 years.

“I have a question for everyone here, including the board. What caused the third building on 9/11 — the 50-story tall building — to collapse at free-fall speed on that day?” Ulrich said.

“Compare 9/11 with what is going on right now. Again, we have an emergency and fear, answered by the U.S. Government puppets, politicians, governors, unelected bureaucrats, state board of educations by stealing our freedoms, they’re coming for our kids,” Ulrich said.

The woman began talking about the COVID-19 vaccine and vaccine passports and mentioned how the vaccine is “a poison cocktail.”

Ulrich ended her speech by calling efforts to require the vaccine as “horrible Nazi tyranny.”

Read more here. The next regular meeting of the District 220 Board of Education is October 5th (in case anyone is taking notes)…

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Teacher Pension

Rapidly rising pension costs compete with classroom spending, reducing resources for teachers and students while driving up property taxes.

Growing pension costs for retired educators and administrators are quickly crowding the classroom out of Illinois budgets.

Pension costs are crowding out direct education spending throughout Illinois school districts.

In the coming school year, 39% of the money the state allocates to education will be diverted away from teachers and students to meet required pension payments.

This represents a 458% increase in spending on teacher and administrator pensions since 2000, compared with a mere 17% increase in general education spending during that period, adjusted for inflation.

This massive growth in pension spending is especially concerning for younger teachers new to the workforce and parents with children enrolled in public schools whose needs will be delayed to make room for rising retirement costs.

Pensions aren’t the only thing crowding out student needs. Pensions take the first and largest bite out of the budget, then excessive administrative costs caused by Illinois’ overabundance of districts take another bite before any money actually gets to the classroom. Furthermore, district administrators tend to have some of the largest pensions with some collecting millions in retirement.

Read on here.

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PC 9.21

The Plan Commission will be holding a special meeting this evening at 6:30 PM. Some of the topics on their agenda include:

  • Plan Commission Introduction, Duties and Code Requirements
  • Lot Consolidation Application: 266 Steeplechase (Public hearing followed by commission meeting/vote), and
  • Plum Farms

A copy of their agenda can be viewed here.  The meeting will be held at Village Hall, or residents can try to listen in to the meeting proceedings by dialing 508-924-1464.

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Hunt Grove

Barrington 220 Superintendent Robert Hunt, his second grade daughter Emmie Hunt, 7, center, and their neighbor, Hadley Crowley, 8, put on masks as they walk to school on the first day of school at Grove Avenue Elementary School, Aug. 20, 2021, in Barrington. (Stacey Wescott / Chicago Tribune)

As Illinois schools welcome students back to fully reopened classrooms this month amid another coronavirus surge, educators face a thorny question: How do you teach students who are quarantined by COVID-19?

The dismantling of pandemic-era remote and hybrid instruction programs across the U.S. this fall arrives by state proclamation and on the urging of U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, who earlier this summer said, “Schools have shown that they can — and should — be offering in-person learning opportunities five days a week to every student.”

Remote instruction can be offered to students while they are under quarantine, Illinois State Board of Education Superintendent Carmen Ayala said earlier this summer. But despite pleas from some parents who want a full-time e-learning option to continue, districts including Chicago Public Schools are reserving their virtual programs for students who qualify as medically fragile and have documented health conditions.

Some teachers and parents are applauding the full return to in-person learning. But the abrupt halting of remote instruction — which last year allowed in-person students who tested positive for the virus to pivot swiftly to online classes — is forcing school districts to get creative this fall when it comes to teaching kids who need to quarantine.

Students at Barrington School District 220 will have the option to participate in the district’s Test to Stay Strategy. It will rely on a slate of authorized PCR or rapid antigen screenings from the date of an exposure to COVID-19, with close contacts permitted to remain in the classroom as long as the results are negative, according to the District 220 website.

The strategy can only be used when “both the COVID-19-confirmed case and close contact were engaged in consistent and correct use of well-fitting masks, regardless of vaccination status,” officials warned.

Read more here.

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Home School

Jessica Clements helps her sons Gavin, 7, left, and Myles, 10, during a home-school session with learning materials from The Good and The Beautiful at home on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021, in McHenry. This is the family’s first time trying home schooling. Myles is in fifth grade, Gavin is in second, and Dayne, 4, is in preschool. (Matthew Apgar/Shaw Media)

Despite past hassles of attending school during the COVID-19 pandemic, Jessica Clements and Kalyn Macchia said they never seriously considered pulling their kids out of public education before this year.

But the two McHenry County mothers of school-aged children decided to take the leap, they said, in part because of the statewide school mask mandate Gov. J.B. Pritzker imposed as mitigation effort to curb the spread of the deadly disease.

So far, with the first day of school in their respective local school districts having come and past, they said they have no regrets. Their kids are on board, too, Clements and Macchia said.

As COVID-19 cases spurred by the delta variant have mounted in the state and across the country this summer, the idea of whether students, faculty and staff should be required to wear masks in school has been a source of intense controversy in Illinois and elsewhere. Parents on both sides of the issue packed school boards and held rallies throughout the state as local education leaders were deciding whether to require masks in school buildings this academic year.

Faced with the mounting cases and varying local coronavirus mitigation policies, Pritzker announced in early August that he was imposing a school mask requirement when students returned to school because “far too few school districts” had imposed such requirements. Pritzker’s decision has been met with continued controversy as some parents throughout the state protested and have sued him over the policy.

Macchia said she was convinced to transition them into a home-schooling curriculum partially by hearing from Leslee Dirnberger, the founder and president of Aspire Educational Consultants based in Barrington Hills, at a meeting Dirnberger held with other local families in recent weeks to inform them of academic options outside public schools.

Read more here.

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Hammer

Michelle Hammer outside Deerfield High School on Aug. 4, 2021, in Deerfield. “As a mom of two athletes, I empathize with the students who are holding off on vaccinations and may face discrimination and exclusion from sports and other extracurricular activities.” (Stacey Wescott / Chicago Tribune)

At first glance, the hurling of F-bombs, menacing threats and burly security guards whisking away unruly members of the crowds packing suburban school board meetings in recent weeks seems straight out of a reality TV show.

But the scenes are unfolding in real time across the Chicago suburbs, where concerned parents and beleaguered school district officials on Wednesday greeted Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s mask mandate with everything from anger and sadness to relief and appreciation.

“Parents should be making the choice if they want their kids masked,” said Jenna Shields, a mother from Barrington.

“Hospitalizations are at pandemic lows, a vaccine is available. … Where does this stop?” Shields said.

Deerfield mom Michelle Hammer said she will ensure her two teenage daughters comply with Pritzker’s masking mandate when they start classes at Deerfield High School later this month.

But Hammer said she remains disheartened about the escalating tensions in her community after a recent dust-up with a Township High School District 113 school board member, who Hammer said directed an expletive toward her during a Monday virtual board meeting.

(Pritzker’s) mandate applies to public and private schools. A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Chicago, which announced last month masks would be optional for vaccinated students and employees at Roman Catholic schools, said Wednesday officials plan to “issue new guidance that conforms to the governor’s announcement.”

Read the full Tribune story here.

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JB Mask

Dr. Ngozi Ezike will be joining the Governor J.B. Pritzker for a presser at 2:30 p.m. at the Thompson Center.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday will issue a mask mandate for preschool through high school students and staff statewide and a vaccine mandate for state employees in prisons, veterans homes and other congregate settings as Illinois tries to blunt a fourth spike of the coronavirus pandemic, sources said.

As the fall semester approaches, school boards across the state have grappled with the decision of whether to require masks after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week issued new guidelines including a recommendation that everyone wear masks in schools, regardless of vaccination status.

Pritzker, who’s made his handling of the pandemic central to his reelection bid next year, is stopping short of requiring all state workers to get vaccinated but will mandate it in settings where people are in the direct care of the state, including prisons, juvenile detention facilities and veterans homes.

Read more here.

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Mask Shot

Despite the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending schools start the year with everyone wearing masks indoors, many suburban school districts have yet to change course on decisions that make protective face coverings optional.

School boards in Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211, Kaneland Unit District 302, St. Charles Unit District 303, Geneva Unit District 304, Arlington Heights Elementary District 25 and Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200, among others, voted to make masks optional. That was in spite of earlier CDC advice that unvaccinated students and staff members be required to wear masks indoors.

None have reversed those decisions in the face of the CDC’s stricter guidelines announced Tuesday. In some cases, the districts have told parents they are aware of the CDC’s recommendations.

The Barrington Unit District 220 board indicated students in prekindergarten through fifth grade “will begin the school year wearing masks indoors.” That board is slated to meet again Aug. 10.

Some school boards voted to make masks optional even after the CDC updated its recommendations last week to advise universal masking in schools. The Lake Zurich Unit District 95 and Northwest Suburban High School District 214 boards both voted in favor of optional masks Thursday.

Read more here.

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