Rally for in-person learning and a return to sports takes place in Naperville

Tessa Devine and Peter Harrison

On Monday, hundreds of local students and parents gathered at Rotary Hill to rally for the reopening of Naperville public schools and a return to sports statewide, preceding a District 203 school board meeting at Naperville Central High School.

The event was organized by Ann Marie Tracy and Jacklyn Cook, both parents of District 203 students. They began organizing the rally through a Facebook group about three weeks ago, in hopes of motivating the district to get kids back in school and sports. Cook hoped to inspire genuine change with this event.  

“We want hybrid or we want full in-person learning…people right now have a chance to stay home, they have a decision that they can make,” Cook said. “We don’t have that decision right now. We’re asking for the exact same rights as anyone else.”

The event featured many speakers including students, parents and coaches. For many demonstrators at the event, concerns were made about the mental health strains of students during remote learning.

Paxton Warden, a junior at Glenbard West, came to the rally in support of in-person learning throughout the state. With his school recently starting the year under an online learning system, Paxton wanted to be in the classroom for the social and mental health benefits to students.

“When people are at home they’re thinking about themselves and their insecurities, so they’re getting down on themselves,” Warden said. “It’s not the same as seeing people face-to-face.”

As the event was scheduled ahead of the District 203 school board meeting, some parents wanted to emphasize that along with reopening schools, the necessary safety precautions should be taken.

Mary Beth Baskin was one of the attendees at the protest and was adamantly in favor of returning to in-person learning, as long as the proper safety measures can be met. As the mother of a senior at Naperville Central, she wants her son and his peers to be back in school for socialization and learning in a healthy environment.  

“We are absolutely in favor of them [students] wearing masks, being socially distanced and cutting class sizes in half. But we definitely want them in school learning for social, emotional and academic well-being,” Baskin said. 

As the organized rally concluded, dozens of demonstrators made their way across the street to Naperville Central High School, where the District 203 board meeting was taking place. After a few minutes of chanting and marching to try to get the attention of board members, the crowd was dispersed by police and sent off school property.

“One size doesn’t fit all. I’d really like to see them in-person learning sooner rather than later,” said Mary Beth Baskin.