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Shea to challenge mayor in primary

KANKAKEE — Kankakee school board member Angela Shea has announced her candidacy for mayor of Kankakee.

A Democrat and life-long Kankakeean, Shea, 52, will have to defeat Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong in the Feb. 23 primary and then win in the April 6 municipal election if she is to gain the city’s top elected office.

“This isn’t about beating Chasity. It’s about defeating a system of division,” Shea said late this week in an interview at the Daily Journal.

Shea noted she had been mulling this move for many months, but came to the decision about two weeks ago. Election petitions cannot yet be filed.

A Kankakee school board member since 2015 and an administrative assistant for Cigna, Shea noted she had once been friends with Wells-Armstrong, but came to the conclusion early in the mayor’s tenure that her style of governing would harm the city.

She said that thought has come true.

“I quickly saw she was only putting on a show,” Shea said of Wells-Armstrong’s governing style. “She’s closed the door to everyone. That’s not leadership.”

A resident of the 3rd Ward, Shea had frequently been a spectator at Kankakee City Council meetings. On occasion she also addressed the council during the public comment portion of the meeting. She once criticized the mayor for not looking at her while she was speaking.

“Aldermen shouldn’t be forced to file Freedom of Information requests to get information about things happening within the city. ... They should be working together. I know people are not going to agree on everything, but [the city council] is so incredibly divisive. In my opinion this city is in a worse spot now than it was before she took office,” she said. “... She is incompetent.”

She compared the council to an abused wife.

“They sit there silent. They say nothing,” she said.

Wells-Armstrong has announced her re-election campaign kick-off will be 6 p.m. Aug. 27 at the Bird Park Pavilion. Wells-Armstrong defeated two-term incumbent Mayor Nina Epstein to win the April 2017 municipal election.

In an email response to Shea’s announcement, Wells-Armstrong wrote she believes she has assembled the “most diverse, talented and effective team in the City of Kankakee’s history.”

“Our successful work transforming the City includes presenting balanced budgets during the most challenging times; downtown beautification that is attracting people back to the heart of the city; from ‘last one out, turn off the lights,’ to come downtown and see the lights,” she wrote of her time in the mayor’s office.

She added her leadership team is one which mirrors the ethnic makeup of the community and inspires a “mindset of optimism as opposed to pessimism. These accomplishments give the voters a record as we reestablish pride in a growing Kankakee,” she wrote.

Gerri Suddeth, Kankakee County Democratic Party chairwoman, said she was unaware Shea was planning to run for mayor.

“I hadn’t heard of anyone expressing an interest on the Democratic side of the city’s mayoral election. It doesn’t surprise me it’s Angela. I have heard her express some dissatisfaction with the mayor,” she said.

Shea said she has talked with several key figures inside and outside of Kankakee regarding a run for mayor. She noted she received considerable encouragement.

“I am who I am. I will be honest and there may be times when you don’t like me,” she said. “But from my perspective, the city has gone backwards since she became mayor.

“She has some interesting ideas out there, but nothing has come to fruition. All the momentum the city had has been lost. It’s heartbreaking. I love this city. I just can’t sit by and say nothing,” Shea said.

For those who may question her lack of municipal government experience, Shea has a response.

“It’s about being passionate and putting the right people in the right place,” she said.

As school year set to begin, families choose learning models

School is nearly back in session, but not all students are going back to school.

With no end in sight for the coronavirus pandemic that forced schools to shut down in March, some families are opting to continue with remote learning for the start of the 2020-21 school year.

The Illinois State Board of Education issued updated guidance July 23 stating that, although in-person learning is strongly recommended, districts must be prepared to offer remote learning to meet the needs of students who cannot attend school.

Most local public school districts are implementing hybrid models with alternating and/or shortened days of in-person learning mixed with remote instruction.

Meanwhile, private schools that don’t rely on state funding, such as Grace Christian Academy and Kankakee Trinity Academy, are offering full school days of in-person learning.

In Kankakee School District, as of Friday, 31 percent opted for fully remote learning, or 1,255 students, while 61 percent selected the hybrid model, or 2,502 students. Another 8 percent have opted for a full-time in building schedule, or 330 students, and 1,100 students have not yet registered for school.

Kankakee Superintendent Genevra Walters said some people have the misconception that teachers have not been working because they have not been physically in the school buildings, but in reality they have been going above and beyond to make sure remote learning works when school returns.

“I told my school leadership teams you’re on Mars now, and now you have to develop an educational system for this environment,” she said.

In Bourbonnais Elementary School District, 23.6 percent have signed on for fully remote learning, or 574 students, while 1,858 have signed on for in-person hybrid learning as of Friday.

Superintendent Adam Ehrman said he expects the number of remote learners to increase slightly as families continue to register for school. He predicted it would be around 20 percent.

“It’s an understandable moment,” he said. “Parents are taking as much time as possible with this agonizing decision.”

In Bradley Elementary School District, a total 347 students have registered for remote learning; 908 have registered for in-person learning and about 107 students have not yet registered for school as of Thursday’s school board meeting.

At Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School, about 12 percent have opted to do fully remote learning as of Friday, amounting to about 240 students out of 2,000.

In Momence School District, a total 134 students had registered to be remote learners out of about 1,000 students in the district and another 100 students had not yet registered as of Wednesday.

Superintendent Shannon Anderson said he expected the number of remote learners to be higher, as around 20 percent of families indicated a preference for it in the district’s recent survey.

The district will allow families that select the in-person model to switch over to fully remote if they change their minds after school starts. Once remote learning is selected, a student will commit to that model for the rest of the semester.

“We applaud [families] for having that trust in us to come in and see how we do school this year,” Anderson said.

In Herscher School District, about 14 percent of students have opted for remote learning so far. As of Wednesday, about 200 Herscher students requested remote learning and about 1,250 requested in-person learning while about 100 to 150 had not yet registered.

Herscher Superintendent Rich Decman said the numbers are about what he expected from the community.

“All families have got their different reasons,” he said. “For some remote learners, maybe they are immunodeficient or live with grandparents. For in-person learners, they may value a return to normalcy.”

Decman said a couple of families have said they are putting their children in private school and a couple of others have said they are going the homeschool route.

“School districts are in the unenviable position of having to provide for everyone,” he said. “Everybody has got an opinion.”

Lisa Riegel, a sixth-grade math and science teacher at Liberty Intermediate School in Bourbonnais, is preparing to be one of the district’s designated remote learning teachers.

“This will be totally different than I’ve ever done before,” said Riegel, who has taught in Bourbonnais schools for 18 years.

For students below the seventh- and eighth-grade levels, specific teachers will be dedicated to remote learners and others will instruct in-person learners.

The district will have 10 remote learning teachers for kindergarten through third grade and seven remote learning teachers for fourth through sixth grades.

Riegel has 47 remote students signed up for her classroom so far, but that number could fluctuate during the year.

In-person learners who need to take time off school would be able to switch to Riegel’s class as needed because her lessons will be on pace with the in-person teachers.

“They can flip into the remote class and not skip a beat,” she said.

Riegel and another sixth-grade teacher will partner and assist each other in monitoring students’ online behavior and checking for questions during lessons.

“I might be so busy teaching that I’m not seeing hands in the air,” she said.

Riegel said she elected to be a remote-only teacher because she thought it would be the safest decision, as she has older family members she sees often.

“I’ll come in, go to my classroom and close the door,” she said. “I’m hoping I won’t be exposed quite as much. I felt this was the right thing for me.”

UPDATED: Power fully restored to Kankakee County

Daily Journal staff report

In the hours just before the calendar page turned to an entire week without power, ComEd’s outage map shows service has been fully restored to Kankakee County and its neighboring counties with the exception of Grundy County. One outage there is affecting less than five customers.

Systemwide, ComEd was reporting 10 outages affecting 55 customers early this morning. Through its social media outlets, the utility told customers that crews are still working around the clock to restore power and rebuild parts of the grid.

The derecho storm that blew through the area on Aug. 10 resulted in widespread power outages. ComEd reported that 810,000 customers systemwide were without power following the storm.

In the days that followed, more than 3,300 ComEd employees and contractors were working to restore power.

“This was a storm of historical proportion, both meteorologically and in its impact on our system,” Terry Donnelly, president and COO of ComEd, said on Wednesday. “In many hard-hit areas, we are not repairing the system, we’re rebuilding it.”

The National Weather Service in Chicago confirmed a total of 15 tornadoes during the storm. It’s the second-highest number of tornadoes to occur on a single day for the NWS’s Chicago region, according to ComEd.