Faced with teacher complaints about stress, curriculum changes and the challenge of helping children who are pandemic over-stressed themselves, Evanston/Skokie School District 65 will not have teacher evaluations during the current academic year.

Sergio Hernandez, chair of the district’s Curriculum and Policy Committee, announced the suspension of those evaluations Monday during a committee meeting.

Hernandez also said the district’s half-day professional development sessions will be led by teachers, “to honor and respect their professionalism and expertise.”

Earlier this fall, the president of the District Educators Council, the teachers union, accused the District of fostering a “toxic work environment.”

So many teachers called in sick for the Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week that classes those days had to be canceled.

Hernandez said that “we have heard the cry from our educators and front-line staff that the pace of change is too much and has been unsustainable.”

He said district leaders have been communicating with employee unions weekly and sometimes daily in an effort to work together, as well as visiting schools to talk with teachers in the field.

While District 65 may slow down the numerous academic and procedural changes which superintendent Devon Horton is trying to implement, board members also said that changes are coming, even if the pace will be different.

Hernandez said those changes are needed to better focus on the needs of Black and brown students, and to ignore the need for change would be a failure to “fix broken processes which continue to harm our most vulnerable children and families.”

Hernandez’ comments were echoed by Board vice-president Biz Lindsay-Ryan, who said “we will continue to make mistakes as we work to figure out the pace in which we can move forward,” but added that “our response to recognize that we can’t always go as fast as we want cannot be to stay where we have always been.”

Both board members also said the impact of COVID-19 has ratcheted up hostility and disagreement in the community, often directed at the school district.

Hernandez said dealing with the “new normal” has led to a “level of toxicity aimed at our superintendent and his administrators, our school board, and our educators which has reached the boiling point.”

Lindsay-Ryan said the “default setting” in many comments has been “rage,” which has “significant costs to everyone’s well-being.”

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