DIXON – About 50 parents and students gathered in front of the Dixon School District office Wednesday evening, calling for five days, rather than two, of in-person learning amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The rally, which spanned the 30 minutes before the Dixon School Board's meeting, featured demonstrators, mostly unmasked and standing less than six feet apart, talking among themselves in small groups.
Some held signs reading "Education without Restrictions," "Give us our Education Back" and "Give Five a Try" as school board members walked into the office.
The rally was held in opposition to a reopening plan the board approved this summer that allowed parents to choose from a blended, on-site learning option or a remote learning option for all grades.
The on-site learning option features students in school for two days a week, either Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday, from 7:45 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Most of the parents Wednesday said they appreciate the two days of in-class learning, but flatly reject at-home or e-learning because it forces students into a lower quality learning environment.
Cami Lappin, of Dixon, who is a parent to a ninth-grader, a seventh-grader and a second-grader that attend Dixon schools, said her children "struggle every day" they learn from home.
Both of her older children, who are typically straight-A students, Lappin said, currently have failing grades in their classes.
"The instruction is not there, they need the teacher to teach," Lappin said. "There's no fault to teachers, it's just that my kids need to be taught in school, by teachers."
The board's intention has been to follow its plan for nine weeks and then to re-evaluate it alongside current coronavirus conditions.
A few board members were concerned that two days a week wasn't enough time in the classroom for students, especially for those in K-5.
But district officials were worried that they wouldn't be able to follow COVID-19 guidelines if more than half of students chose to come to school four days a week, and the teachers union endorsed the two-day blended learning option citing health and safety concerns.
Lappin, along with other parents at the rally, said she has no problem with the board requiring that students wear face coverings and have temperature screenings, so long as it means they can attend school every day of the week.
But for parents like Ann Nordan, of Dixon, who has children in ninth and seventh grades, that condition is problematic.
Her older child, who suffers from anxiety, can't wear a mask. He also hasn't had success with virtual instruction at home.
"It's a double-edged sword," Nordan said. "He deserves a quality education....but can't physically wear a mask."
Nordan said her ideal plan would include five days of in-class, mask-less learning.
Jill Pfeiffer, who parents a senior, a second-grader and a preschooler, didn't wait for the board to amend its plan.
As soon as the board announced the on-site option would be limited to two days a week, Pfeiffer and her husband enrolled their two younger children at Faith Christian School in Grand Detour, which is offering five days of in-person instruction.
The older student is exercising the two day option at Dixon High School.
"The e-learning isn't effective," Pfeiffer said. "For our younger ones, we want them to be around other kids. And our senior, it's her senior year. I feel like she's missing out by not being there five days a week."
Pfeiffer said she isn't worried about her kids bringing the virus home and potentially spreading it to her family because even before the pandemic she was strict about her kids washing their hands and cleaning her home.
"It's a risk like any disease out there to me and my family," Pfeiffer said. "Of course it's in the back of your head, but we're aren't not going to live our lives and keep our kids home because of this virus. We need to show our kids that we can work through this."
Jim Olsen, the only counter-protester at Wednesday's rally, said parents should take the virus seriously.
Students like his grandchildren, who attend Reagan Middle School and Madison Elementary School, could put grandparents or medically compromised guardians at a heightened risk of catching the virus if they attend school every day or without masks, Olsen said.
"And consider the teachers, we don't know that students won't transmit the virus to teachers," Olsen said. "We all need to air on the side of caution and be more thoughtful of those around us."