Superintendent Eric Witherspoon says Evanston Township High School will begin in-person instruction next month.

The coronavirus pandemic has had ETHS teachers and students working remotely for almost a year.

Witherspoons’s announcement says, “At this time, ETHS expects to transition to a hybrid learning model in April, after spring break.”

Spring break ends April 2. The statement does not specify if in-person classes will start will start immediately after the break, or sometime later in the month.

Update 3:45 p.m. 3/2/21: ETHS today clarified that the first day planned for in-person classes is April 15.

The announcement sets up a confrontation between the superintendent and the ETHS Teachers Council, the union of the high school’s 300-plus teachers. Union president GionMatthias Schelbert says the superintendent’s decision is “not putting students first, and not putting education first, but is putting white privilege first.”

Witherspoon says, “The default instructional model for hybrid learning at ETHS is remote in-person instruction. This means remote teaching with some students in the classroom.” That could mean teachers wearing masks for safety in class, while also having to talk through those masks to the other students at home on Zoom.

Choosing in-person attendance is optional for students, with a signup form to indicate staying fully remote or taking the hybrid in-person choice. A quarter of the high school’s 3,600 pupils would be in the building at one time.

However, the teachers, many of whom have not been vaccinated against COVID-19, would be at ETHS daily under the hybrid system. Union president Schelbert, says Superintendent Witherspoon’s plan is a “change in working conditions” which requires negotiations before the teachers would go back.

ETHS says students who do choose in-person education will attend one in-person session for a given course every other week. The superintendent says the benefits for those choosing in-person classes are “personal connection with staff and social interaction with peers.”

He says those in the classroom and those at home will get the same instruction at the same time, although if teachers want to do any “hands-on experiences in the building it would be ungraded enrichment.

Schelbert says “the administration has failed to educate our community on what this hybrid plan is really like,” because a student choosing the in-person option would only get a few classes in the building before school ended in May.

Schelbert says ETHS should finish this school year fully remote, and then plan for a “robust return” to the building in the fall.

It now looks like there will be a robust controversy next Monday night at the School Board meeting, where Teachers Council is expected to state its objections to the hybrid plan.

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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