Parents of the 8,000 students in Evanston/Skokie District 65 schools now have a few more days to make a crucial decision.

School officials originally gave parents until today to sign up for entirely remote learning or in-person schooling for their children. That deadline has now been pushed back to next Tuesday.

District 65 and all other Illinois schools went to online education in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

There were notable differences in overall satisfaction levels among students, parents and teachers, as shown in the chart above. Students were least likely to report having had a bad experience while teachers were the most dissatisfied.

More than 1,100 students in grades 4 through 8, 2,600 parents of kids in all grades and hundreds of teachers responded to the surveys.

In a separate survey, 950 staff members were asked about a potential return to in-person school.

The biggest negative, as you might expect, was fear of being exposed to the coronavirus (76% of those responding). The most common emotion, should school buildings reopen, was “anxiety” (75%), and 19% said schools should not reopen at all, staying totally in e-learning.

A parent survey on how to resume school was also given, but results are still being tabulated and will be released soon.

District 65 plans to reopen Aug. 27 with remote learning for everyone. On Sept. 29, those opting for in-school classes are scheduled to begin in the buildings, while the online option will also remain for parents/guardians who prefer that.

District 65 is extremely diverse economically, from well-to-do families to those living in poverty. The district is racially diverse as well, with 43 per cent of the students either Black or Hispanic.

With an eye toward minority students, a group called “Evanston Parents and Professionals” put on a webinar today discussing school and COVID-19. Pediatrician Sharon Robinson said at the session that it’s critical for the schools to include a social/emotional well-being component in remote learning, because children miss out on that when not in the classroom.

Robinson also emphasized what many other experts have said as well, that the coronavirus pandemic has made conditions worse for minorities. Not only do people of color become infected with COVID-19 more than other groups do, but the financial consequences of the pandemic-induced economic collapse hit minorities harder as well.

Robinson said District 65 should try to have socially distanced, small group sessions for students, perhaps with teachers as part of the get-together. “The wealthy white families in Evanston are already forming their pods,” she said. “I’d like to see this for at risk kids too.”

As for the back-to-school choices, District 65 spokesperson Melissa Messinger told Evanston Now that the district has received about 4,500 responses so far. She said the system wants to give parents a bit more time, as well as reach out to those who may not be aware of their options.

There’s a lot at stake. But whatever mom or dad may want, the final say is up to the coronavirus. District 65 will only go to in-person school in late September if conditions in the pandemic allow that to happen.

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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