Open New Trier pushes to open school to more students

The group, backed by several key community members, continues to press Board of Education to move to 50% capacity



Open New Trier’s Rally on Saturday, Nov. 14

On Nov. 14 students and parents gathered at the Northfield campus as a part of the group Open New Trier. They rallied  to pressure the  school to open to  50% capacity. 

Caroline Finnigan, a senior, spoke at the rally and shared her personal struggle without school.

“I never knew how much I needed school to be happy until I didn’t have the choice to go anymore… For my mental health and many other students’ mental health at New Trier, we need to go back in person.” said Finnigan.

The rally focussed on the mental health of students, as well as their ability to learn virtually. Senior Hannah Schneiderman expressed the stress she has felt for the past year.

“I can honestly say that I am struggling mentally to deal with the thought that something like my basketball season, that I worked for for many years, may have no chance of happening,” said Schneiderman.

Open New Trier, a parent group fighting to open the school to more in-person learning, began as a simple website with information for parents who wanted to move to a full in-person model. 

Ted Dabrowski, a father of New Trier students and lead organizer of Open New Trier, said the group is a true grassroots movement. 

“There’s no true organization to it,” he said.

According to Dabrowski, the group’s goal is to have a fully in-person model for students who want it.

“The goal would be to have, let’s say four days out of five would be in person and give that other day a chance to plan better because I know it’s a complex time, but it could be done.”

A primary motivator for Dabrowski to create Open New Trier was his family’s personal experiences. 

“I can’t stand to see my son in front of a screen for that many hours, it’s unhealthy in every single way,” he said. 

In 2013, Dabrowski served as a Board member for Virtual Learning Solutions, a non profit that sought to establish a virtual charter school. In a 2013 op-ed for the Illinois Policy Institute, he called virtual learning a move “into the 21st century.” 

Dabrowski said that he continues to be a fan of online learning, but that it must be for a self-selected group of learners, who make that choice.

“I think for the right people who have the choice to do it and not because it’s forced on them, it’s a great alternative.” 

Kati Spaniak, a real estate agent and former Northbrook trustee, founded the Facebook group Reopen Illinois Schools in June and has organized to reopen schools across the state. The Facebook page has 5,000 followers and has been active, with multiple daily postings. 

Spaniak organized five reopening events at different schools in the Chicagoland area on Saturday Nov. 14. One of those events was the Open New Trier rally

Though not a New Trier Township resident, Spaniak spoke at the rally Saturday.

“I fell into this because I knew how to build a community. I didn’t realize it was a political message when I started a Facebook page, which it is political, but I didn’t realize that,” she said. 

Dabrowski  called for the attendees at the Rally to attend and make a public comment at the board of education meeting, adding that they needed to be firm but respectful.

“We have board members here, on Monday, let’s show up,” Dabrowski said.

Members of Open New Trier followed this message showing up to the following board meeting on Nov. 16. Many parents gave speeches at the Board meeting in favor of reopening, one parent holding the “Open New Trier” sign as he spoke. 

Victoria Chan, a senior who spoke at the Board Meeting, said that when supporters of Open New Trier would talk, she could hear loud cheering from other rooms and from across the halls.

 “It was very frustrating and it made it scary to talk,” she said. 

Senior Caleb Albrecht, who also spoke at the meeting, had a direct encounter with an angry parent. After he finished his statement about how cases are on the rise in Cook County, and that it is unsafe to have all students and faculty back at school, a person at the meeting followed him out of the room

”After I finished, the man followed me out, claiming to be a doctor, he yelled ‘I’m a doctor. You don’t know what you’re talking about.’ I felt my voice was pretty threatened by that,” said Albrecht.

Following public comments, Ducommun advocated for setting a date to vote to open the school to 50% of students each day for in-person learning. 

“I just think if we go from 25% to 50%, it sounds big and scary, until you look anecdotally. My guess is that it’s not going to lead to great dislocations of reported data on spreading events, so I think it’s torturesome to be so slow in taking this step,” said Ducommun.

Paul Vallas, a former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, as well as a former candidate for mayor of Chicago, who is one of the leaders of Open New Trier, maintained the view that schools are essential and nothing should prevent them from opening.

“Teachers are first responders. Education is a critical function, it’s a critical test.” said Vallas.


Eva Roytburg contributed to the reporting of this article