Superintendent Horton speaking at this evening's online forum.

Superintendent Devon Horton says he and his fellow administrators at Evanston/Skokie School District 65 had the final say on the upcoming hybrid reopening, not the district’s medical advisory panel.

In a virtual forum for the community, Horton said, “I want to be very clear. They have not made the decision for us. The decision was made by the administration.”

Horton thanked the panel for its scientific advice, but said District 65 leaders, and not the volunteer advisors, made the call on the scheduled February 16 reopening. He also said if COVID positivity rates go above a rolling 12% community average, the reopening will be postponed.

District 65 has been on remote learning since school began in the fall, and three scheduled in-person re-opening dates have been postponed since then.

District leaders outlined how the hybrid system will work, with about half of D65’s 7,300 students remaining on remote learning full time, with the rest attending school in person either half or full day. The district tried to meet parental wishes for in-person or remote, although it was not always possible.

Local pediatrician Dr. Sharon Robinson, a member of the advisory panel, said the “outside school environment will dictate how safely we can re-enter in-person learning.” In other words, if Evanston/Skokie parents do not wear masks, wash hands and practice social distancing at home or at work, it will be a lot more difficult to keep COVID from spreading to their children.

Anyone coming to school will have to fill out a web-based medical self certification form. Temperatures will be taken, and must be below 100.4 degrees. Desks will be kept far enough apart for social distancing, and lunch will be in the classroom, not the cafeteria. Masks will be required, except while eating those classroom lunches. Parents will be informed of any school-based positive COVID tests and there will be isolation rooms where anyone displaying symptoms will wait before being picked up.

District Financial Officer Raphael Obafemi said “everyone who enters our buildings should feel safe and comfortable.”

The federal Centers for Disease Control has suggested that schools can be reopened safely as long as proper mitigation steps are taken. The CDC has cited a study, also mentioned in the District 65 forum, from Wood County, Wisconsin.

With 75,000 people, Wood County is about the same size as Evanston, although located in a rural area in the middle of the state. Out of more than 4,500 students in Wood County schools, the study found only seven students with COVID, and no staff members. The New York Times reports Wood County had a COVID case rate in the past week of 32 per 100,000 people, compared to a rate of 31 per 100,000 here in Cook County.

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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