The ETHS board meeting virtually on Monday.

Evanston Township High School has been proposed as a site for the ongoing COVID-19 vaccination process.

District 202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon told the Board of Education in its virtual meeting Monday night that he has offered use of the school to health officials. Witherspoon said ETHS could be used during the next phase of vaccinations, which includes essential workers such as educators, from Evanston and from other districts. There has not been a decision yet on whether ETHS will indeed be used.

The building will be ready for students and teachers, however, once ETHS goes from fully remote schooling to a hybrid model. Administrators told the board that a variety of health and safety upgrades have been made due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Associate Principal Robbie Brown said even though in-person school has not started yet, there are still maintenance workers and some administrators in the building. “All areas are cleaned and sanitized at least once a day, and high touch areas such as bathroom doors are sanitized at least three times a day,” he explained.

Sanitizers, wipes, and cleaning solution will be available in all offices and rooms, as well as extra masks for anyone who does not have one (masks will be required). Plexiglass shields are also up between the teacher’s classroom station and the student area.

New air filters have been installed that meet state guidelines, and the classrooms have been set up for social distancing, with desks six feet apart.

“Seats will be assigned and strictly enforced for contact tracing,” said Assistant Superintendent Pete Bavis.

Under the hybrid system, about one-quarter of ETHS students will be in the building at any given time, while the rest will still be learning remotely. Groups will rotate so that all students receive both in-person and e-learning instruction.

One unexpected challenge for the hybrid system is making sure everyone can hear and understand the teacher, who will be wearing a mask in class. Students in the classroom should not have a problem, but those learning remotely may have difficulty. Bavis said ETHS is looking into adding microphones to improve audio quality.

“All of the old ways of doing things in an in-person classroom won’t work in a hybrid system,” Bavis said. Hybrid is “a step” towards full in-person instruction.

It’s still uncertain when ETHS will begin hybrid education. Witherspoon said the decision will be based on a variety of health metrics. Currently, he said Illinois Region 10, which includes Evanston, has a COVID positivity rate of above 10%, which Witherspoon said signifies a “substantial risk.”

The positivity rate would have to drop to 8%, he said, before District 202 would consider going hybrid. Other factors will also be taken into consideration, such as hospitalization rates, ICU availability and death rates, among other metrics.

The superintendent said ETHS would give the community 30 days notice before hybrid school would begin. He stressed the district would not be rushed into making a decision which would later be regretted. “We are simply not going to take risks with lives, period,” he stated.

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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