Marcus Campbell and Eric Witherspoon.

District 202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon said while Evanston Township High School will do “everything we can” to get teachers and other staff members vaccinated against the coronavirus, the demand for COVID-19 shots is far outstripping the supply.

In Friday’s edition of “E-town Live,” the ETHS YouTube program, Witherspoon said, “We have not even begun to begin getting staff vaccinated at this time,” due to the slow rollout of the vaccination program nationwide.

Teachers are in the current vaccination category, 1(b), which “sounds great,” Withespoon said. But until there is enough vaccine available, exactly when most educators will be vaccinated is still unknown.

For example, while category 1(b) includes essential workers and individuals over age 65, the City of Evanston is working it’s way down from older to younger, and is currently vaccinating those 77 and above.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, ETHS leaders are not yet willing to open the school for in-person classes. Students remain on remote learning for the time being.

However, Witherspoon and ETHS Principal Marcus Campbell said they are excited about “in-person experiences” the school will be offering. The on-campus enrichment options begin Feb. 16, although virtual activities will continue for those who do not wish to go to the high school.

Witherspoon said the key to the in-person activities is that the students will be in “pods,” small groups which allow for “control of the flow of people.” That’s quite different from a school setting, where large numbers of students change classes every hour or so, mixing with other young people and adults.

Witherspoon said virus metrics in the Evanston region are trending favorably enough so that ETHS leaders are “feeling confident we can offer in-person experiences” and give students the chance for social/emotional contact with their friends and their school, while observing practices such as social distancing.

He also warned, however, that the pandemic will likely be with us for months, if not longer, and health conditions could change quickly.

Witherspoon said ETHS leaders are reviewing the hybrid learning plan (part in-person, part remote) which was developed last summer, with an eye towards possible changes when ETHS brings students back into the building for classes.

The superintendent did not mention critics who have said ETHS should reopen for in-person courses immediately. However, he did give reasons why high school classes are staying remote for now. For example, Witherspoon said people of color are statistically more likely to both contract COVID-19 and die from it. More than 50% of the ETHS staff and student body, he noted, are individuals of color.

Even though Evanston/Skokie District 65, with similar demographics in elementary and middle school, is opening under a part-in-person hybrid system later this month, Witherspoon said high school age students are apparently more likely to transmit COVID-19 to adults than are younger children.

“We are taking this carefully and cautiously,” he said.

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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