Marcus Campbell.

The chances of remote learning at Evanston Township High School disappearing soon are remote.

District 202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon said this morning that the ETHS community “needs to have the mind set” that e-learning “could easily be for the entire fall semester.”

Witherspoon and ETHS principal Marcus Campbell spoke virtually to students, teachers, and parents on “ETHS Live,” a program streamed over the school’s You Tube channel.

The two administrators outlined goals, expectations, and realities for a semester which will probably be all via remote learning. Witherspoon said the coronavirus is “surging around the country.” He noted how White House adviser Dr. Deborah Birx has put Chicago on a list of potentially emerging virus hot spots. And he emphasized that “ETHS will not put people into a deadly situation if we know we can avoid it.”

The District 202 Board of Education meets Monday morning, to formally approve the remote learning plan. In a memo to the Board written yesterday, Witherspoon said bluntly what’s at stake with COVID-19: “One major outbreak at ETHS could be deadly.”

As recently as mid-July, ETHS was still planning on a hybrid school schedule this fall … part in-person, part remote. But following strong objections by the staff, worried about contracting COVID-19 in the building, along with the virus worsening nationwide, school officials said the fall semester would start remotely, and only go to in-person if medical safety allowed.
“It’s not the best scenario,” said Campbell, “but we’ll look at it as a glass half full” situation.

Illinois schools switched to all remote learning in mid-March, as a result of the statewide stay at home order issued by Governor J.B. Pritzker, as the coronavirus pandemic was growing.
But unlike e-school on the fly, which was what the spring seemed like to many, Witherspoon said this fall will be “real school.” He stressed that students must be at all e-classes. Attendance will be taken, and there will be “real grades and real assessments.”

Eric Witherspoon.

There will also be activities, but those extracurriculars, such as clubs, will be virtual. Football has been pushed back into the spring. Even though there was a marching band camp earlier this week, Witherspoon said there will be no marching band fall season and no marching band competitions. If football does indeed return in the spring, then the band, Witherspoon noted, would come back as well.

Both Witherspoon and Campbell said many students, parents, and staff may experience emotional problems due to the challenges of remote learning. Students won’t be with their friends, parents will have to balance going to work (if they are still employed) with home responsibilities, and teachers will have to master a new learning system.

Witherspoon said help is available, through school counselors or the employee assistance program. “We know this is a really hard time for the community,” he said.

Witherspoon urged all Wildkits, students, teachers, and families, to stick together, and to try to do something to help others. “This crisis will someday end,” he said. “We’ll know we did the things that mattered.”

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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