Washington Elementary School. (Google Maps)

For the fourth time since school began remotely in the fall, Evanston/Skokie School District 65 has set a date for resuming in-person classes.

The latest target, according to a letter to the community from Superintendent Devon Horton, is Feb. 16.

Previous targets were postponed due to the high coronavirus positivity rate in the area, and other COVID-related metrics such as hospital bed availability.

Horton says the decision to implement the hybrid model, in which some students will be in the building while others learn at home, was “not made hastily, nor as a result of political pressuring.”

Still, the decision does come after a parents group, the Coalition to Reopen District 65 Schools, called for creation of a medical advisory panel. That panel was indeed established, and Horton says the reopening decision was made in consultation with the group.

To reopen schools, District 65 will now accept a higher COVID-19 positivity rate than what was considered safe and acceptable just two weeks ago.

Horton says once schools reopen “hybrid learning will remain in effect as long as the test positivity rate (rolling 7-day average) is less than 12% in Region 10 and locally.” Region 10 is the Illinois designation for suburban Cook County. The Illinois Department of Public Health says the Region 10 rate now, based on data through Jan. 17, is at 8.0%.

When the mid-January reopening was dropped because the level of COVID was deemed at the time to be too high, the district’s target rolling positivity rate was 8% over three consecutive days.

In his letter to the community, Horton says “in citing numerous studies and in conversations with our medical advisors, we know mitigation measures” such as wearing masks in social distancing in school are “highly effective” in preventing the spread of COVID.

However, he says if Illinois Region 10 is moved back to a more restrictive level by the State, “this will also require an adaptive pause and district-wide pivot back to remote learning.”

District 65 will hold a virtual forum at 6 p.m. on Jan. 28, to explain the upcoming hybrid reopening, as well as health and safety measures and coronavirus metrics.

Under the plan, students will have days off from Wednesday, Feb. 10 through Friday, Feb. 12, to give teachers time to plan for the switch to hybrid classes, and classes will resume in the new format after the Monday Presidents’ Day holiday.

District 65 has more than 7,000 students, grades pre-K through eight. District 202, Evanston Township High School, has not set a specific reopening target since school began in August. Officials there have stated a goal of some time this semester, to be determined by coronavirus metrics.

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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