Parents protest in-person delays despite updates from administration

Students+and+parents+protest+Lab%27s+conservative+return-to-school+approach+and+lack+of+transparency+on+Feb.+25+after+gathering+in+front+of+Blaine+Hall.++

Elliott Taylor

Students and parents protest Lab’s conservative return-to-school approach and lack of transparency on Feb. 25 after gathering in front of Blaine Hall.

Nicky Edwards-Levin, Editor-in-Chief

Frustrated at the lack of transparency and inconsistent messages regarding the return to in-person learning, parents sent a petition with more than 550 signatures to University of Chicago Provost Ka Yee Lee and protested outside Blaine Hall Feb. 25.

The petition, created Feb. 22, calls for a return to full time in-person instruction for grades 3-5 as well as a commitment to fully in-person instruction next fall. The petition demands “improved transparency in communication” with the creation of a parent-teacher-student association for the 2020-2021 school year.

Parents protested even as many of their concerns were being addressed this week. Interim Director David Magill sent an email to Lab parents Feb. 24 announcing that lower school students would return to in-person learning March 29 and that Lab intends to continue in-person instruction in the fall. The lower school had been scheduled to return to in-person classes Feb. 22 with five-foot distancing until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their guidelines to recommend six-foot distancing in school. Dr. Magill announced Feb. 16 that the lower school would delay its return in order to abide by CDC guidelines.

“We recognize the tremendous challenges and toll that the pandemic and remote learning have taken on your children and families, and regretfully, the uncertainty of recent weeks has contributed to that,” Mr. Magill wrote in the email. “I am confident that Lab’s leadership and our full community are committed to making in-person education work while maintaining health and safety and Lab’s outstanding educational program.”

The kids are experiencing burnout, many are depressed, they’re not learning, and the university and the administration and the FA need to put the children first. Now they’re saying they are going to bring students back, but not until after spring break, and that’s too long.”

— Heiji Black

At the protest, dozens of parents and students voiced their concerns with Lab’s conservative return-to-school approach, which has been slower than peer institutions such as the Latin School of Chicago and Francis W. Parker School, the Archdiocese of Chicago schools and even Chicago Public Schools.

Parents advocated for their children at the protest, saying that extended remote learning was detrimental to young students.

“The kids are experiencing burnout, many are depressed, they’re not learning, and the university and the administration and the FA need to put the children first,” said Heiji Black, a parent of students at the lower and middle schools. “Now they’re saying they are going to bring students back, but not until after spring break, and that’s too long.”

The Faculty Association has taken the Laboratory Schools to court twice in efforts to delay a return in person over negotiating workplace conditions. One injunction was denied by a federal judge, and a second attempt at negotiations with the university is currently ongoing.

Several lower and middle school students spoke at the rally, reading aloud letters they wrote to those deciding when Lab will return in person.

“In every assembly, you talk about mental wellbeing and how we should think about covering students,” fifth grader Lilah Orlov said. “None of your decisions during this pandemic have thought about the student point of view.”

Sarah Hoehn, a parent of a fifth grader and a pediatric intensive care unit physician, told the crowd that since most teachers are vaccinated, there is no reason to delay a return school.

Nausheen Zaidi, a lower and middle school parent and a physician, cited declining numbers of positive COVID-19 tests as a reason to return in person.

“They are some of the lowest they’ve been since the pandemic started, so I don’t know what’s different now since initially in early August when we planned to be in person,” Dr. Zaidi said to the gathering. “I think the Lab School and the teachers and the university have taken it for granted that we will continue to stay silent but I think it’s more than past time that they need to take all of us, the whole school, back in person now. Not a month from now, not in the fall — now.”