If Evanston/Skokie School District 65 does indeed reopen for in-person learning on Feb. 16, about half of the system’s 7,300 students will still take their classes from home, while the rest will be divided between all day in school, or half-day in the building and half-day remote.

Placement data released by the district has 51% of the students remaining on remote learning, while 49% will be split between the other options.

All of District 65’s classes have been online since school began in August, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Superintendent Devon Horton has said it will be safe to return to the buildings on Feb. 16, and the district is now willing to open schools with a higher virus positive rate in the community — 12% versus the previous 8%.

Dividing up the district’s 7,300 students among the various options is a complicated puzzle.

While D65 tried to give all parents the option requested for their children, as the Rolling Stones once sang, “You can’t always get what you want.”

That’s because due to social distancing requirements, a classroom which could hold, say, 25 kids in a pre-COVID world can now only accommodate a much smaller number. With less room for students in a building, some parents who requested in-person learning for their kids may not have received it.

Plus, the district is also prioritizing groups with higher academic need for in-person attendance. Those priorities include special education status (IEP or 504 plan), low income (free or reduced price lunch) and homelessness. The more “priority flags” a student has, the greater chance that student has for attending in person.

With all of that in mind, here’s how District 65 defines the options:

  • Remote — All work online at home, not in a school building.
  • Hybrid — In-person all day, but only half of the day is in a classroom with a teacher. The rest of the day each child is on the computer, with adult supervision.

Those are the only two options available for middle school students. For grades K-5 there are two more flavors:

  • AM — In-person in the morning, remote learning in the afternoon.
  • PM — In-person in the afternoon, remote learning in the morning.

      On its website, District 65 says, “Some students may be assigned a new teacher” so the various moving parts in the new reality can work. “We know this will be extremely difficult,” the District adds, but “our educators and staff will help support this transition.”

      And there’s one more wrinkle. There is no in-person school for anyone on Mondays, even for the students in the various in-person options. Everyone gets remote learning on Mondays. “This will allow for extensive cleaning of buildings on a weekly basis,” the district states, as well as “professional learning and prep time for our team.”

      And, of course, once the return is under way, there’s always the chance of a spike in COVID-19, and then it could be back to remote learning for everybody once again.

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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