Childcare accommodation removed


In the Zoom Room, a place where Glenbrook staff members’ children can learn remotely during the school day, Angie Nelson, GBS support staff member, works with a staff member’s child. Faculty who wish to bring their children to the room, which is located at GBS, must sign up in advance and pay $5 per block for each child. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Nestos

Rachel Katz and Haley Sandlow

When the district transitioned to its first hybrid phase on Oct. 5, staff members were able to apply for childcare accommodations, allowing those with proper documentation for the accommodation to work remotely. On Dec. 2, the district announced that starting Jan. 19, childcare accommodations would no longer be offered.

“I personally did not expect them to extend [the accommodation] into second semester because I obviously knew that there was a sense of urgency to reopen and get kids in the building,” Danielle Fluegge, English teacher and coordinator of student activities, said in a video conference.

Fluegge was grateful to have used the accommodation first semester, but also to be back in person for second semester, she said.

Christina Salonikas, communications specialist for the district, said in an email correspondence that 77 certified district staff members, or approximately 14 percent, utilized the childcare accommodation during first semester. The district did not identify how many of the 77 were teachers. According to Bruce Doughty, president of the Glenbrook High School District #225 School Board, in response to questions sent through email to Salonikas, childcare accommodations were offered to qualifying staff members, consistent with state and local guidance, to help staff members in adjusting to closure of their children’s day care facilities.

With school and day care services reopening, and consistent with the district’s goal of safely offering in-person learning to our students during the pandemic, the Board of Education made certain adjustments for second semester, including the elimination of childcare accommodations,” Doughty said.

Matt Whipple, president of the Glenbrook Education Association, also known as GEA, said in a video conference that the GEA originally recommended the board keep the accommodation to meet teachers’ needs, but ultimately negotiated a continuation of the accommodation until the end of first semester to give staff members time to make childcare arrangements.

“I would say that some teachers, … at the outset, were really frustrated,” said Whipple. “But I think others understood. At the end of the day, I think all teachers understand.”

Junior Kade Wilson said in a video conference that having more teachers back in person makes a big difference because he feels his questions are more easily answered and he is trying harder in class. Two of his seven teachers were in person for first semester. For second semester, of his seven teachers, three, along with one student teacher, are in person.

Lauren Bonner, associate principal for administrative services, said in an email correspondence that she recalls the number of students in person at Glenbrook North during first semester to have ranged each day from 300 to 500, morning and afternoon cohorts combined. The number of students in person since the start of second semester varies greatly, but lingers closer to 600 each day. This school year, there are 2,021 total students enrolled at GBN.

According to Whipple, as a parent himself, he respected the challenges many of his colleagues faced with finding childcare. He also understood the community’s desire to have teachers back in the building, although some comments parents made when advocating to bring teachers back in the building “cut pretty deep.”

According to Doughty, the board received “scores of comments and emails regarding the 2020-21 Learning and Operational Plan, including about childcare accommodations. The Board of Education considered this input in making decisions regarding those accommodations.

The district set up a “Zoom Room,” a supervised space located at Glenbrook South, where Glenbrook staff members’ children can learn remotely during the school day. Staff members must pay $5 for every block their child spends in the room. Students in the Zoom Room range from kindergartners to eighth graders.

According to Fluegge, she considered taking a leave of absence for second semester when trying to decide what would be best for her family, but feels lucky that her husband has work flexibility and her parents live close by to watch her young children while she is at school.

That’s such a privilege,” said Fluegge. “Otherwise, I would have to stay home because my first priority is obviously to help my children.”