Faced with a growing number of COVID-19 cases, Evanston Township High School will return to remote learning through the start of winter break.

Starting Friday through Thursday, Dec. 23, ETHS will go on what superintendent Eric Witherspoon calls an “adaptive pause,” which Witherspoon describes as “a short-term mitigation strategy that allows for local health officials to gain a better understanding of the COVID situation impacting the school.”

As they did for more than a year during the peak of the pandemic, ETHS students will have classes via computer.

In a website message to the community, Witherspoon said he decided on the pause after consultation with the city’s Health & Human Services Department.

The superintendent said, “At this time, ETHS and local health officials have identified core group outbreaks throughout the school.”

This has been a particularly challenging week for District 202. The first two days saw 53 newly reported cases of COVID, basically the same number as in the first four months of school combined.

That led to a cascading series of cancellations, from basketball games, to the YAMO show, to all non-essential and extra-curricular activities.

The return to remote learning is the latest step. Although the timing is coincidental, the announcement comes after a school day where two guns were discovered in the building and the campus was on lockdown for several hours.

“The adaptive pause,” due to the virus, Witherspoon explained, “is intended to reduce the transmission of COVID while allowing students to continue instruction with their teachers during their regular schedules.”

Friday’s classes will be asynchronous, a term few people ever used until the pandemic, but which simply means what the students are watching is not live, and they can access the materials on their own time.

Classes on the 20th through the 23rd will be synchronous, where instruction is live in real time. Attendance will be taken.

ETHS will be open Friday during regular school hours so students can pick up their Chromebooks and other materials.

Witherspoon says, “With winter break upon us, it is critical that mitigation efforts continue in our community.”

That break starts Dec. 24.

ETHS is scheduled to re-open in person after vacation, on Jan. 10.

At least, that’s the plan for now.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.