Illinois School Keeps Students—and Parents—In the Dark

Illinois School Keeps Students—and Parents—In the Dark
September 4, 2013

Mary C. Tillotson

Mary Petrides Tillotson is an education reporter for Watchdog.org.  (read full bio)
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The lights are off every Tuesday inside Grove Avenue Elementary School in Barrington, Illinois, thanks to the Green Tuesdays program, aimed to raise awareness about the environment. The school also asks its K-5 students to wear an article of green clothing Tuesdays.

The program has some parents concerned about their children’s safety.

“I could see a kid tripping and getting hurt in some of those dark hallways by the lockers,” said Kenneth Rusin, who has two children in the school and two younger children who will attend in the next few years. “I’m also concerned if there was some type of intruder, a pedophile or somebody who would want to harm my children. I don’t know how it would be witnessed well in those dark areas.”

The school’s security cameras may not get clear images of intruders, he said, and the darkness could contribute to poor mental well-being.

“It just doesn’t feel very welcoming and comfortable to walk in the dark hallway,” he said.

Everything’s Fine
The project is in keeping with safety codes, said principal Cindy Kalogeropoulos.

“We are a school with a lot of windows, so ... even with our hallways dimmed, it’s not like we’re searching for how to get down the hallway,” she said. “It’s dimmer light, there’s no doubt about it, but kids can easily find their way.”

Kalogeropoulos said administrators checked school codes to ensure they could keep the lights off for one-fifth of the school year, “So everything is fine.”

“It’s just a day every week that we try to raise everybody’s awareness,” she said. “Kids are very basic when they’re in elementary school, so it’s kind of a wakeup call for us to be conscious of things.”

The school also encourages children to donate to the local food pantry, allowing them to wear hats on Wednesdays if they bring in a donation. Food grown in the school’s garden is served in the cafeteria and, in the summer, donated to the food pantry.

Nothing to See Here
The program was imposed without parents’ or school board members’ knowledge, Rusin said.

“It just came up,” he said. “The public didn’t hear about it, and the board didn’t know about it till I brought it to their attention.”

Rusin wrote a letter complaining to the principal, who wrote back explaining and defending the program. Rusin has approached local public officials, including the police and fire departments, and an insurance company. The consensus was that everything’s up to code and their hands are tied until someone is hurt or files suit, he said.

“The superintendent told me that if I came to another school board meeting, that he and the principal would have 100 parents that agree with him,” Rusin said.

The fire department, insurance agency, and superintendent did not return calls for comment.

Kalogeropoulos says parents and staff have been “absolutely” supportive of the program and that she has not heard any complaints from parents. She did not return calls or an email for comment about her response to Rusin’s letter.

School Board Uninvolved
The school board and principal are “adamant” about keeping the program, refusing to hear criticism of it, Rusin said.

Board members were repeatedly emailed for comment, and Jeff Arnett, chief communications officer for the board, emailed back a week later to say media requests should go through his office.

The school board has never been involved in the program, Arnett told School Reform News.

“To my knowledge it’s never been raised during the public comments portion of a meeting, and it has not been an agenda topic at any of their meetings,” he said. “The school board makes decisions about things that have district-wide implications, and this is specific to Grove Elementary.”

‘Just Teach Our Kids Reading’
Rusin said he’s been the most outspoken, but many parents are similarly concerned. He knows one family that pulled their children out of the school “because they didn’t like the way the principal was agenda-driven.”

“Most people think it’s not something that should be done and they’re against it. However, to get anybody to come to a board meeting or to write a letter or to bring it up, people ... don’t want to upset the staff, because maybe they’ll take it out on our children,” he said.

Safety issues aside, Rusin said schools aren’t the place for this.

“The way we’re looking at it, please just teach our kids reading, writing, arithmetic. Keep that stuff somewhere else, because it doesn’t seem like the right place for this age group, and it’s a little awkward when you walk into the main doors of the school and it’s pitch black on Tuesday.”

He said he feels the school is pushing a political agenda on the students.

“If there’s any question of jeopardizing health and safety, why is it important for them to hear about global warming when other schools aren’t doing it, at the expense of the children?” he said.

 

Image by Teddy Zhang.

Mary C. Tillotson

Mary Petrides Tillotson is an education reporter for Watchdog.org.  (read full bio)