In school or at home? Both sides of pandemic education debate have rallied in the suburbs

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The issue of returning to school during the COVID-19 pandemic has sparked vigorous debate in the suburbs, as people on both sides have donned masks, painted signs and taken to the streets in recent days to air their views.

On Sunday, Wheaton was the site of a rally in support of keeping students at home to learn remotely.

Among the participants was Becca Lech, a 15-year-old sophomore at Wheaton Warrenville South High School. She carried a sign reading “Listen to Science” as she stood near the intersection of Roosevelt and Warrenville roads.

She said she is concerned about the rise in cases among those from 15 to 19 years old in DuPage County.

“That’s not going to be helped by any means by going back to school and reopening high schools right now,” she said. “Until there is a trace-and-test program, going back to school is both unsafe for the students and the community.”

She noted that her brother tested positive after being away at college for about two weeks.

“He is completely isolated in my parents’ room. There is a giant plastic sheet over the door,” she said.

Wheaton resident Ryan Claus, a teacher and a parent, also attended the rally.

“With the current pandemic going on, I don’t think it makes any sense for kids to be school,” he said. “At this point, we have to start looking at the science here and not just that the kids want to be back in school. There is plenty of opportunity for that in the future once this pandemic goes away.”

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His 13-year-old daughter, Kenzie Claus, an eighth-grader at Monroe Middle School in Wheaton, held a sign reading “I’d rather be in a Zoom than a casket.”

Returning to the classroom, Kenzie said, isn’t worth the risk.

“I have an autoimmune disease, and I know kids would not stay six feet apart,” she said. “I don’t want to die. I don’t want to lose teachers. If we go back, why risk it, when we could just do it from home?”

Victor Silva, a 17-year-old junior at Wheaton North High School, also was there to support staying at home.

“I’m very disappointed, because it’s turned into this (partisan) thing, two different groups,” he said. “If you look at empirical evidence, this is obviously a huge threat. I understand concerns of not being able to learn as well as you did in regular school. But this is a life-or-death situation.”

Wheaton last week was home to a rally held by the We Stand for the Students movement, which advocates for a return to in-person learning.

We Stand for the Students organizer Dave Ruggles of Wheaton points to Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and other states that have allowed students to return to in-person learning — and are allowing students to play football.

“Illinois is surrounded by states that have shown guts,” he said in a WGN radio interview last week.

School board meetings this week for districts that have some or all of their students relegated to remote learning are likely to be contentious.

In St. Charles, two opposing groups plan to picket Monday evening near the District 303 administration center: Reopen D303 High Schools! and Reopen D303 High Schools When It’s Safe.

Also Monday, some parents in Barrington Area Unit District 220 are planning a “Get Our Kids Back to School and Let Them Play!” rally at 6 p.m. at Citizens Park.

• Daily Herald staff writers Lauren Rohr and Susan Sarkauskas contributed to this report.

This content was originally published here.