As students and their families were preparing to begin a new school year in person, an emergency meeting and subsequent decision caught many parents off guard.
"I really thought that on Friday the 21st that school bus was going to roll up and my kids were going to be on it. I really did," Becky Kastys, a mother with two children in Mokena School District 159, said.
She said they bought school supplies and new clothes for her soon-to-be second grader that now won't be used. Instead, her kids will learn at home, online.
"I love the fact they [originally] gave us a choice. If you feel comfortable, send your kid. If you don’t feel comfortable, stay home," Kastys said. "I loved that choice as a parent, and I really hate the fact that choice was taken away."
On Saturday, the district held an emergency meeting and, in accordance with new guidelines from the Illinois Department of Public Health, decided in-person classes weren't feasible.
In an email to parents, Superintendent Mark Cohen said, "Unfortunately, the latest guidance makes returning to our classrooms impractical. Within days of reopening, we would anticipate having absences of students and staff that would significantly impact learning. Having normal classroom instruction under these parameters is not sustainable."
The new parameters require students and staff exhibiting one or more COVID-like symptoms to immediately be isolated and evaluated. Entire households would be required to quarantine.
"I do think this was the best decision for the safety of my children," Nicole Mezydlo, another parent in the district, said.
Mezydlo has a special needs student who will return for some in-person learning. According to the district, students will be brought in for services as needed, based upon what is stated in their individualized education program.
"She needs it to thrive. She needs her occupational therapy, speech and physical therapy," Mezydlo said.
Her son, however, will have to learn at home. Mezydlo will have to help, and she said that's okay, especially since she's a stay-at-home parent.
"You have to make it work. You don’t have a choice," she said.
On Monday, IDPH announced Will County is now at a warning level for coronavirus awareness. This means there are signs of increased COVID-19 activity within the county.
One troublesome factor cited for Will County was an increased rate in the incidence of positive tests at 93 per 100,000 residents, after a rate of 71 per 100,000 residents the previous week.
The second factor was a two-week increase in percentage of visits to the hospital for coronavirus-like illness.
Counties designated at “warning levels” are asked to implement measures for increased testing and contact tracing.
Even with rising case numbers, the district's decision impacts working parents, like Roxanne Linklater, who has five school-aged children at home.
"I am a nurse. I work full time. It’s going to be very difficult," she said.
Her husband also works full time. Linklater said she'll have to adjust her schedule and work weekends in order to accommodate the lesson plans. Her children range in age from second grade to high school.
"I don’t think the kids did as well with e-learning as they would if they stayed in the classroom," Linklater said.
The Mokena District has postponed the start of the official school year by one week. The first day for remote learning will begin Monday, August 31.