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“Memo of Understanding” partly to blame for New Trier not being open at 50%

Thanks to all of you who have joined OpenNewTrier and spoken up in favor of opening our schools more. Our efforts are helping New Trier students get more in-class time. As most of you know, the district is now on the expanded track (more than “25%”) and the board has set the week of January 25 for a two-track reopening (“50%”). We must continue to speak up or that date could slip, putting further reopenings at risk for the rest of the year. One reason why we parents have so little power is partly due to an agreement signed directly between the district administration and the teachers association in September 2020. It’s that agreement, called the “Memorandum of Understanding (MoU),” that created the Reopening Advisory Board (RAB), the group charged with helping set COVID metrics, as well as reopening and shut down recommendations to the school board. Parents have almost no presence on the RAB. Click here to see the MoU for yourself. Here’s an excerpt from a letter I personally sent to the Board: I was surprised when I recently learned the details of the Memorandum. It seems to me the school board abrogated its responsibility when it allowed the MoU to be signed by the district administration and the teachers association without any public input or a formal vote by the school board to authorize the agreement. I understand what occurred may be a common practice for non-essential activities, but it shouldn’t have been so for the most important decision the board has ever made – the opening and closing of our schools. The school board is meant to represent the families of New Trier, but the MoU gives much of the influence over reopening to the Reopening Advisory Board that’s overwhelmingly represented by the associations, the teachers and the administration, and not families. Amazingly, the RAB has just two parents out of a total 21 members. The makeup of the RAB is as follows: the superintendent, one school board member, four members of NTEA (teachers), two members of NTESPA (support professionals), one member of NTPPSA (physical plant), five school administrators, two parents, two students, one school nurse and two outside medical professionals acting as consultants. Not only is the RAB’s membership over-represented by those who favor remaining closed or less open, but the RAB meetings have been private. Until recently, not even board members were allowed to listen in on the discussions. All of the above makes it impossible for the public to hold the RAB accountable for its influence, recommendations and decisions. And it doesn’t give families, the residents who fund the schools, any voice.

At OpenNewTrier, we must ensure that parents’ voices are heard and that we have more influence over the schools’ reopening. As one parent recently told the board, “we shouldn’t have to come to you guys begging to open our schools.” It’s why we’re asking the school board to reconstitute the RAB to ensure half of its members are made up of parents. The meetings should be open to the public and recorded as well. Thanks to all of you who have written to the board or spoken directly at the board meetings. The board members really appreciate the engagement. And for those of you who haven’t signed up for OpenNewTrier, please join us!

P.S. Check out the New Trier’s metrics for saliva testing. Our kids and the staff are proving they can be in the schools safely. Just 0.25% positivity in each of the last two weeks. And there is zero evidence of any spread in the schools.

P.P.S. Also, anybody who feels their child needs more in-class time, for any reason, then check with the district. I understand the expanded track still has plenty of room for more NT students. P.P.P.S. School reopenings are getting more press as pressure to reopen increases. Here are two pieces of news that shouldn’t be ignored: 1. Glenbrook South, North high school teachers told: find child care when in-person learning resumes or go on leave 2. Chicago plans to reopen schools and ask teachers to return, even if the majority of students stay home