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By an 8-1 vote at the Feb. 12 City Council meeting, aldermen approved for introduction Evanston Township High School’s application for a special use to operate an alternative school at 1233-35 Hartrey Ave. The school would initially serve 20 students, but the number could double, ETHS officials have said. All the prospective students have behavioral or emotional needs, or both, that cannot be met at ETHS, so they attend out-of-district schools.
Having the students return to Evanston would benefit them in at least two ways, ETHS officials have said: by reducing their travel time – which in some cases is an hour each way – and by allowing them, as appropriate, to attend classes or participate in extra-curricular activities at ETHS, which is only a few blocks north.
Having the school in Evanston would also benefit the community, ETHS officials said, because taxpayers would no longer have to foot the bill for out-of-District tuition – which could be up to $50,000 per year for some students – and because 12 to 18 new jobs would be created.
To be able to apply for a special use for the school at 1233-35 Hartrey Ave., the high school requested that the City change the zoning there.
Under the City’s Zoning Code, areas are designated for only certain stated purposes. Exceptions to those purposes, called “special uses,” are designated for each area. The Hartrey Avenue property is zoned I2, for industrial purposes, and educational institutions traditionally would not be allowed in industrial areas.
The high school requested a text amendment – that is, asked that the City change the code to allow educational institutions as special uses in an industrial area. City Council approved the text amendment, and then the high school applied for a special use permit to operate the school there.
The special use would be in the form of a City ordinance, which normally requires two Council sessions for approval – one for introduction, followed by a second one, with further discussion and voting on the proposal.
Only Alderman Ann Rainey voted “no” on the introduction.
At the Planning and Development Committee meeting, which occurred just before the Council meeting on Feb. 12, Darlene Cannon said she opposed the school.
Speaking on behalf of the 1300 Pitner Block Club, Ms. Cannon said, “We have concerns about the off-campus school being placed in our neighborhood. I understand that many feel that it’s a good thing, because it will save money [and] that neighborhood students would be going to the school – which means it would be predominantly Black students in a predominantly Black neighborhood.
“Would this school be appropriately placed in a mixed or white neighborhood? Are there any concerns about the demographics and about deepening the lines of segregation here in Evanston?
“The neighbors feel excluded and misled about this process with the City. This is yet one more example of how Black neighborhoods are not afforded the same consideration as White neighborhoods in the City.”
Ms. Cannon read the same statement at the City Council meeting.
By email, ETHS Chief Financial Officer Mary Rodino told the RoundTable, “There is no target student or race that is currently being identified. It is too premature to speak about which students might be placed there. Our ultimate goal is to have the students back on campus whenever appropriate. Being three blocks away will make it easier for them.”
ETHS reports that 93 students are currently placed off campus: 6 Asian; 24 Black or African American; 13 Hispanic or Latino; 1 Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander; 3 of two or more races; and 51 White.
Explaining her Council vote, Ald. Rainey said, “I opposed this solely on the basis of the zoning issue. It has nothing to do with who’s going to be in the school or what the racial makeup of the neighborhood is.”