Washington Elementary School. (Google Maps)

Evanston/Skokie School District 65 will apparently require a doctor’s excuse for staff members to get out of in-person school, despite the surging coronavirus pandemic.

District 65 has been on remote learning since school opened in the fall, but is targeting a Jan. 19 in-person reopening for parents choosing that option for their children.

A parents group called the Coalition to Reopen District 65 Schools has provided Evanston Now with what they have been told by Superintendent Devon Horton.

According to a group organizer, Horton’s email to one of its members, dated Dec. 9, states “Our staff was given a choice back in the summer to work from home due to the unknown state of COVID. Starting in January any staff that requires to work from home must have a certified note from their medical doctor. We will have a great deal more staff available for our January return date.”

The superintendent’s letter also suggests that lack of staff this fall as well as the level of COVID was a reason for not reopening. “There are other factors that have played into our delay in reopening besides the health metrics,” the letter states.

Evanston Now has contacted both District 65 and the teachers’ union for comment, but has not heard back.

The parents group says children are suffering emotional and trauma from remote learning, with too much screen time and no in-person interaction with fellow students and teachers.

Some of the coalition’s members are doctors, and they would like the District to form a medical advisory board with local physicians. A coalition member, Dr. Bridget Wild, wrote to the Board of Education saying in-person elementary and middle school does not increase the spread of COVID in the community. “Our children need to be in school at school,” she said.

Coalition leaders say they are scheduled to meet with the superintendent and other district officials on Monday afternoon.

District 65 has about 7,300 students, pre-kindergarten through grade eight. A district survey earlier this fall found about half the parents and guardians favored a return to in-person classes for their children. The district will continue to offer remote education if it does open the buildings.

While District 65 is aiming for a Jan. 19 return to in-person school, that is not guaranteed. The superintendent’s letter also says, “We are operating from a position of caution not fear. We are responsible for making the best decision for a situation that does not offer a good solution.”

Late Friday afternoon, District 65 put out a Superintendent’s Weekly Update to the entire school community regarding potential reopening. It outlines how a hybrid reopening schedule would work, if indeed the schools do go back to in-person learning for some students.

However, the superintendent points out that such a return might not happen. He says “With public health and safety in mind, we will look to meet state and district level metrics before welcoming back children and adults for in-person learning. Based on what we are seeing, this will require lower positivity rates and less strain on our healthcare system.”

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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