The Teachers Council at Evanston Township High School is calling on District 202 leaders to drop their plan for a return to in-person school next month, instead saying ETHS should remain on remote learning for the rest of the semester.

In a document sent to the Board of Education Monday night, union president GionMatthias Schelbert says members overwhelmingly prefer to “stay the course” rather than switching, in part because the change will, in effect, create two different schools, one white and Asian, the other Black and brown.

The 3,600-student high school has been on e-learning since the coronavirus pandemic hit in March, 2020. On April 15, ETHS plans to go hybrid. Under that model, some students will have both in-person and remote classes (hybrid), while others will be remote only. Families had the choice of either option.

At Monday night’s Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Eric Witherspoon said that 46% of ETHS students chose the partial in-person plan, with a higher percentage of white students taking that option. Students of color were more likely to stay on fully remote learning.

Witherspoon did not give the percentage breakdown by group, but the teachers union did, based on parent sign-ups.
Preferences for in-person:

  • Asian 73.3%
  • White 69.1%
  • Hispanic/Latinx 30.0%
  • Black/African-American 21.3%

Union president Schelbert says by adopting the hybrid model, “We will, in essence, have created two schools,” contrary to the ETHS mission of academic equity.

Schelbert said minority teachers were also somewhat less likely to want to return to the classrooms with 93% of non-white teachers opposed to returning while 87% of white teachers want to stay remote.

Blacks and Hispanics are more likely to contract COVID-19 and die from it than are members of other groups, due to factors such as underlying health conditions, and also the high number of Black and brown essential workers who come in contact with virus-infected people.

The union says 23% of the 300-person teaching staff plan to ask for an accommodation in order to continue working remotely. That number is 34% for non-white union members.

The Teachers Council also broke down educator preference by gender, and found more female teachers concerned about in-person school due to child care concerns.

Union president Schelbert says this “stark separation by gender” is a problem because teachers whose children have been learning remotely now have to “try to pivot close to the end of the school year” and return back to the building, leading to new child care issues.

The union also says the hybrid model of teaching some students in a classroom with others online at the same time will negatively impact learning. “Teachers in masks who sit behind a plexiglass barrier while attempting to convey important content to students online and in the classroom will slow down delivery of effective instruction,” the union says.

The union document also says in-person school will not be “school as normal,” with the numerous health and safety restrictions. Because of that, the union says, the hope of increasing social-emotional contact may actually backfire.

Because of all this, the union is asking District 202 to continue the current system of remote education combined with voluntary “in-person experiences” on campus, such as arts, sports and non-graded enrichment. More than 900 students signed up for those experiences in their first week last month, the union says.

“Staying the course” with the present system is “the only teaching and learning model that puts all students first,” the Teachers Council says, while allowing the District to “focus on planning for a safe and robust return to school to begin the 2021-22 school year.”

The Board of Education received the teachers’ document on Monday night without discussion. At this point there is no indication the District plans to back away from the start of in-person hybrid school on April 15, as individual student schedules for those returning to the building are already being prepared.

On Wednesday, however, union leadership does have a meeting scheduled with Superintendent Witherspoon. Union president Schelbert tells Evanston Now that Teachers Council is “not obstructionist,” and does not plan to file a lawsuit or have a job action if hybrid school begins.

However, he says that a change of working conditions must be bargained, and so the union wants to make sure that safety protocols are in place should in-person school occur. Concerns include issues such as PPE, heating and ventilation of classrooms, and a “huge” question, accommodations for teachers who have medical or other personal reasons for not being able to work in the building.

Schelbert says the union also wants to “hear the why” from Witherspoon, on the reason he plans to shift to a partial in-person plan with just four weeks to go in the semester for seniors, and six weeks for all other students. “It’s a little bit of a head scratcher,” Schelbert says.

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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