Washington Elementary School. (Google Maps)

Assuming Evanston/Skokie District 65 schools do open on Nov. 16, they will not open that day for everyone.

In an email to the District 65 community, Superintendent Devon Horton said, “Based on staffing considerations and building capacities, it is necessary to phase-in the return of our students whose families requested in-person learning.”

Horton said the district is relying on guidance from the Illinois State Board of Education, and will place a “high priority on certain student groups, focusing on those who would most benefit from a return to in-person learning.”

Horton said this was also the recommendation of his Community-based Task Force this summer.

Students will be prioritized based on the following criteria:

  • Special Education: Does the student have an Individual Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan?
  • Is the student an Emergent Bilingual (English is not the student’s original language)?
  • Low income: Is the student eligible for free or reduced price lunch?
  • Home status: Is the student experiencing transitional living (homeless/shelter/inadequate non-permanent residence)?
  • Age: Is the student in early childhood (younger than 5 years old), kindergarten, first grade, or second grade?

Horton said in the first phase, pre-kindergarten through grade five students with three or more of the priority indicators will be allowed to return to in-person learning first. Parents will be contacted. Horton said all middle school students will remain on remote learning during phase one.

He said the goal is for every student to return to in-person learning whose family indicated such a preference. The hope is to bring “the remainder of students” (lower priority K-5 and middle school) back in phase two, but no specifics are available yet on when phase two might begin.

About half the families of the district’s 7,000-plus students prefer in-person school, according to a district survey. The rest either prefer continued remote education, or (small percentage) have no preference.

There is a huge “what if” to all of this, namely the coronavirus pandemic. Horton said “as long as there is not a setback in health conditions,” District 65 anticipates phase one beginning on Nov. 16. However, if health metrics take a turn for the worse, that could change.

There is an interesting difference in approach to this between District 65 and Evanston Township High School. While District 65 is aiming towards at least a partial reopening on Nov. 16, ETHS has made it clear that remote learning will continue for the rest of 2020 and perhaps longer.

In Friday’s “Etown Live” ETHS YouTube program, Superintendent Eric Witherspoon said “we are in the midst of a deadly virus.” District 202 has not mentioned any potential dates for returning to in-person classes.

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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