The District 65 board meeting Monday night.

Evanston/Skokie School District 65 is “exploring the option” of providing COVID-19 tests for students in the upcoming school year.

District officials told the Board of Education on Monday night that such tests are currently available for staff, and at least the possibility of doing the same for children is under study.

As for vaccinations, Superintendent Devon Horton told the Board that the district cannot require COVID-19 shots for teachers and staff. “That’s not something we can control,” he said. “It’s up to the state.”

District 65 has encouraged staff members to become vaccinated, and helped set up a clinic earlier this year. There will be a clinic for students from both District 65 and District 202 at Evanston Township High School this Saturday.

Horton and other administrators also outlined plans for the next school year in academics, health and safety and transportation, among other areas.

As previously announced, District 65 plans to have in-person instruction five days a week for all students, except for those whose families want to continue with remote learning. In case demand for at-home instruction exceeds the district’s ability to provide it, those with special education or medical and some academic needs will be prioritized. If necessary, there might be a lottery for others.

All District 65 students were on remote learning from mid-March 2020 through mid-February of this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. A hybrid program, combining in-person and remote school, began in February for about 57% of the district’s 7,300 students.

Some pandemic-created requirements will still be in place in the fall, such as wearing masks, upgraded ventilation of buildings, and social distancing. “Safety will be in the forefront,” said Chief Financial Officer Raphael Obafemi.

However, desks will only be three feet apart in classrooms instead of six, allowing for more children in the buildings at a spacing considered safe by government health agencies.

There will possibly be outdoor, heated spaces where some students will eat lunch. Those riding school buses will have assigned seats. And as in the current school year, meals will be free for all students regardless of family income, something implemented this year by the federal government.

There is, of course, a chance that current plans for the upcoming school year will have to change, somewhat or quite a bit. It all depends on the status of COVID-19.

“While we are all hopeful and excited about where we are headed,” said the superintendent, the district has to be prepared to pivot away from in-person schooling if the virus dictates.

On the other hand, as Board President Anya Tanyavutti said, there might be a COVID vaccine for children under age 12 by the fall, so the situation might actually get better.

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

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