ETHS Principal Marcus Campbell and Superintendent Eric Witherspoon.

A big high school is not the same as much smaller elementary schools, at least when it comes to reopening for in-person school during the coronavirus pandemic.

That was the message Friday morning from District 202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon and Evanston Township High School Principal Marcus Campbell.

Speaking on the district’s “ETown Live” YouTube program, the two said that they’re encouraged that Evanston/Skokie District 65 plans to start in-person school on Feb. 16 for about half of that district’s students. However, they say the dynamics of a large high school like ETHS are not the same as those in the much smaller elementary schools in D65.

For example, Witherspoon said District 65 “serves a much younger age group.” He explained that children under age 12 appear to be less at risk from COVID-19 than are teenagers, the high school population.

Plus, with nearly 4,000 students and 600 employees, ETHS is far larger than any of District 65’s elementary and middle schools. With smaller enrollments, it’s easier in elementary schools to create “pods” for groups of children, whereas in high school, the kids are constantly changing classes and encountering different students.

Witherspoon said while he “sees it as a good sign” that the COVID metrics are improving in Evanston and in the rest of suburban Cook County, ETHS is not planning to open the building yet for in-person education. He said District 202 will monitor the COVID situation “and we will respond appropriately at the high school level” when it is deemed safe enough to bring people back. Until then, remote education will continue.

Campbell said “we are all eager to bring the students back,” and development of the coronavirus vaccine is very encouraging. However, he added that “supplies are very low.” Campbell said he is “hopeful” that educators can be vaccinated within the next couple of weeks, but nothing is certain.

Even though ETHS remains closed for in-person classes, Witherspoon and Campbell noted that the state of Illinois is now allowing certain sports (although not basketball nor football) and extracurricular activities to resume. Witherspoon said, “We’re trying to figure out what we can offer in a safe and small group setting,” so some activities should get under way soon.

The two administrators also spoke of the importance and historical significance of the presidential and vice-presidential inauguration. The swearing-in of the first female and African-American vice-president had a powerful impact on Campbell, who called it “completely inspiring.” Campbell noted he was “raised by a lot of strong Black women,” and having Kamala Harris as vice-president “adds to the tapestry of Black excellence.”

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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