District 65 officials discuss

Evanston/Skokie District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton told viewers of a virtual town hall this evening that it appears demand for school in an actual classroom will exceed the district’s ability to provide it this fall.

“If we had the staff and space to bring all the students back we would,” Horton said. “But the reality is we have some staff who are not comfortable” with returning during the COVID-19 pandemic. “It is not likely,” he added, “we will have enough staff to cover all the kids.”

The district will start school next month with entirely remote learning. The plan is to transition to in-person school on Sept. 29 for those parents who want it. A remote school option will also be possible beyond that date, for parents who prefer having their children stay at home. District 65 has 8,000 students, pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

Horton said the coronavirus has created a “very scary, unpredictable” situation. He said the district is showing “compassion” for staff members who will not be returning due to health concerns or child care issues. No numbers were given, however.

If there is not enough space in schools to meet the demand, Horton said “marginalized” populations will be given priority, such as students of color, those in special education, and LGBTQ individuals. Horton said “there was a pandemic before this, inequality, racism, and classism. We have to make sure students who have been oppressed will be given the first opportunities,” he said.

Parents have until Friday to tell the district if they want remote learning or in-school. There will be a procedure for switching from one to the other.

Many of the more than 50 questions dealt with how e-learning will work, because as one parent put it, school via computer was “very spotty” this spring, when Illinois schools went to remote learning due to the virus. Administrators outlined a series of improvements, and said the standards and expectations will be the same, whether a child is in the classroom or at the kitchen table with a laptop.

There were also questions about school itself, such as social distancing, lunch periods, and temperature checks. Desks will have to be six feet apart, which means fewer students in a room. Teachers will change rooms rather than students, to minimize chances of contact in the halls. Lunch will also be in the classroom.

Students who walk to school will have their temperatures taken before entering the building. Bus riders will have their temperature taken either before getting on the bus, or on the bus itself. Students who get a ride to school will have temperatures taken before leaving the car, so they won’t bring an infection into the building. If a student does become ill in school, with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or above, there will be an isolation room.

Horton said each of the district’s schools will have a “Let’s Get It Right” committee, made up of teachers and administrators, to come up with specifics on placement of desks, one-way hallways, and other things which will make school look and feel a lot different than in the past.

That is, if there is school. While District 65 is planning to switch to in-person schooling on Sept. 29 for families who want it, COVID-19 may have other plans, forcing e-learning to continue for everyone. The number of cases and the positive rate will ultimately decide what happens.

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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