Eric Witherspoon and Marcus Campbell.

The superintendent and the principal at Evanston Township High School say ETHS will not have a partial return to in-person classes this semester as some other nearby districts have tried.

On this morning’s edition of the school’s “E-town Live” YouTube program, District 202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon reiterated that ETHS is “committed to staying on remote learning the rest of the semester.”

Several other area districts, including Glenbrook and New Trier, have gone to a hybrid model this fall (part in-person, part e-learning), only to return to fully remote schooling, at least for a while, after outbreaks of COVID-19.

ETHS Principal Marcus Campbell said switching like that hurts the continuity required for a good education. “Flipping back and forth between remote learning and in-person,” he said, “does not serve our students and staff very well.”

Plus, the school leaders said, going back to school now is not safe, due to the level of COVID-19 in the area. Witherspoon said the Harvard Global Health Institute calls for no higher than a 3% COVID positivity rate before returning to the classroom. But right now, Witherspoon said, the seven-day rolling average in Illinois Region 10, which includes Evanston, is 5.9%.

Witherspoon said if ETHS does return to any in-person school next semester, it would have to be hybrid rather than everyone coming back at once. Social distancing requirements would limit the number of people allowed in the building. And Witherspoon indicated students might actually prefer e-learning than school in-person under the strict health requirements during a pandemic.

“You would file in six feet apart,” he said. Students would sit in the same desks all the time, and wear masks all the time except when eating lunch.

“There would be no lingering in the hallway whatsoever … and when the school day ends you’d have to file out six feet apart wearing masks.”

Chatting with your friends would be a thing of the past. “There would be no socializing in school,” he said.

“It doesn’t sound like a very pretty picture to me,” Witherspoon said. “This idea of hybrid is not necessarily the best educational environment,” he said, but it’s the best which can be done if the COVID positivity rate does go under 3%.

If ETHS does go to a hybrid model next semester, Witherspoon said, there will be 30-days notice so everyone can prepare.

But with e-learning the system for now, ETHS will survey students, parents/guardians and school staff to get suggestions on changes or improvements.

Witherspoon said remote learning “is definitely not the same as in-person,” but it is not substandard. He said ETHS is committed to having students “continue their learning in a highly safe environment.”

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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