Even though Evanston Township High School students can return to the building for classes next month, a majority of students are choosing to stay at home for remote learning.

Superintendent Eric Witherspoon told the District 202 Board of Education Monday night that 46% of the high school’s 3,600-plus students have chosen the hybrid option, which includes both in-person classes and e-learning from home.

The rest, 54%, have decided to continue with fully remote education, which has been in effect since the coronavirus pandemic hit last March.

Families could choose either option. Witherspoon said a higher proportion of white students opted for in-person/hybrid than did students of color, although a specific breakdown of those numbers was not mentioned.

Minorities have been more impacted by COVID-19 infections and deaths for reasons including underlying health issues and the high number who face a high risk of COVID-19 exposure at work.

District 202 officials have said for months that the demographics of Evanston are different than the population make-up of many other suburbs, and the higher number of at-risk individuals here is a reason why ETHS is only now getting ready to return to the building.

Board President Pat Savage-Williams said, “For us to pretend that race doesn’t matter” in deciding when it is safe to reopen “would be totally irresponsible.”

Fellow board member Monique Parsons criticized some who have been pressuring the board to open ETHS sooner. Parsons did not mention the Reopen Evanston Schools group by name, but her comments seemed directed, at least in part, at that organization. “No one group or individuals pushed us to make the decision” to start the hybrid system. “I don’t want anyone out there to think you have that power,” she said. “You don’t.”

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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