The “E” in ETHS now stands for E-learning.

The 2020-21 school year at Evanston Township High School began this morning, with neither students nor teachers at the building on Dodge Avenue.

Instead, all 3,800 students and 600 staff members, minus a few administrators, were at home, teaching and learning via the computer … something which Superintendent Eric Witherspoon has said will likely continue for the entire fall semester, if not longer.

All Illinois schools went to remote learning in mid-March, following the statewide shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. Remote learning continued all spring.

The District 202 School Board had planned to begin today with e-learning, then shift to a part-remote, part in-person system after Labor Day. However, following objections from teachers, along with the worsening coronavirus situation nationwide, the Board switched to all remote learning until the medical situation improves at some uncertain date.

ETHS officials promise e-learning will be better this semester than in the spring, when changes had to be made on the fly.

Teachers spent much of the summer polishing their computer teaching skills. And unlike in the spring, grades will actually mean something.

Due to the shutdown, the state “strongly advised” that no F’s be given, nor anything else which would lose a student’s overall grade. Those days are now gone. A through F are back.

Attendance will also mean something. During the first two weeks of the shutdown, attendance was not even taken, and after that, there was no punishment for not showing up.

Data obtained from ETHS by Evanston Now shows the school averaged 80 percent attendance in April and May, based on students who checked in on line. The numbers may be skewed because the last day for seniors was May 14.

The last “normal” attendance figures show an average of 92 per cent for the class of 2019 over all for the years that class spent at ETHS.

Update 3:40 p.m.:

The loss of all those potential customers half a block away is having an impact on merchants near ETHS.

Tanisha Ford.

At the Litehouse Restaurant in the Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center, owner Tanisha Ford noted “it’s pretty empty.” Ford usually had a good lunchtime crowd from ETHS, but as of around 1pm today, all she had received were a couple of pickup orders.

Clarence and Wendy Weaver.

And at the C&W Market and Ice Cream Parlor, owned by Clarence Weaver and his wife Wendy, Clarence said his business model was built on foot traffic from the high school, but now “that traffic is gone.” Since the pandemic began, however, C&W has found an opportunity to help the community and the store as well. They have provided 200 meals to the neighborhood, financed by the Evanston Community Fund. Clarence Weaver said this gives them the chance to show C&W is “more than just a snack shop.”

Both businesses plan to tough it out through the pandemic, and keep the doors open. “We’ll hang in there,” said Ford.

In a statement issued this afternoon, ETHS administrators said they are focusing on equity with the Enhanced E-learning framework and are working to “address systematic inequities that already existed,” by providing additional support to students who need it.

Rather than furloughing workers, ETHS said the jobs of more than 30 employees have been “repurposed” to focus on students who require additional help.

“We are reinventing education in response to the pandemic,” Superintendent Witherspoon said in the statement. “This requires all hands on deck. I am so proud that our Wildkit family is ready to do whatever it takes to help in these difficult times.”

Update 8 p.m.:

Today was a chance for students to meet all of their teachers online. Class by class instruction begins Tuesday.

16-year-old Calder Neely, a junior, said it seems there is “more of a plan, it’s more structured” than e-learning in the spring. Neely said the fast shift to remote learning in March was “pretty rough. It was a hard transition.”

Calder’s mother, Julie Risko Neely, would have preferred in-person school. She said “it will be interesting” to see how remote learning works for her son.

Calder said he believes “the teachers and staff will try their best to prepare us” for things like college admissions exams, but still, he said, e-learning instead of school in person “will be hard for a lot of students. We’ll see what happens.”

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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