Higher than normal staff absences, combined with lower than normal availability of substitute teachers is causing Evanston Township to cancel in-person classes Friday.

Instead, students will go “back to the future” with an e-learning day, a reminder of all those hours spent at home on the computer during the coronavirus pandemic.

In fact, “COVID and pandemic fatigue” are also cited as factors in why ETHS will not open its doors to students and teachers on Friday.

District 202 spokesperson Takumi Iseda tells Evanston Now that the decision for an e-learning day is “based on a very specific set of circumstances.”

First of all, the district says 70 staff members have planned absences on Friday. On a normal Friday, it’s only 50.

The ETHS website says the district has more than 270 certificated staff. There are also many non-certificated employees such as cafeteria, secretarial, and janitorial workers, among other job classifications.

While administrators sometimes cover classes when subs are not available, Iseda says, “It is also important to ensure staff are available to manage school operations and functions.”

Plus, there is a substitute teacher shortage across the nation, so even though demand for subs would be up this Friday at ETHS, the supply is not. (In fact, earlier this week, Evanston Now reported on the substitute shortage at Evanston/Skokie District 65).

Then, there’s the calendar. Thursday is Veterans Day, a federal and thus a school holiday. Iseda notes that a Thursday holiday “causes a disruption to the academic schedule.” The reality is some staff and students don’t come in on the Friday after, creating a four-day weekend.

And even though COVID-19 is diminishing (although not by any means disappearing), Iseda says “Students and staff continue to experience the stressors or prolonged mask wearing and adapting to the health protocols of this school year.”

ETHS, she says, is “mindful of ways to help address” such COVID-related issues.

The president of the District 202 teachers union, Rick Cardis, tells Evanston Now “if the shortage of substitutes is any indication, some people need a break.”

Cardis, head of the Teachers Council, says the stress this school year is “definitely a well-being issue,” and the fact is that “people are tired.”

District spokesperson Iseda says, “This is an unusual and extreme set of circumstances that impacts the wellbeing of our students and staff.”

She says ETHS is fortunate to have an e-learning plan in place to allow education to continue.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.