Just days before the classes began at Evanston Township High School, news surfaced about a possible threat to some in the ETHS community.

In a letter to ETHS students and their families dated Aug. 20, ETHS Superintendent Eric Witherspoon acknowledged that “there have been news stories about a student concern we are handling at ETHS” and said, “Please rest assured that ETHS cares deeply about school community and is taking vigorous steps to protect the safety of our school.”

School officials learned through “other sources,” Dr. Witherspoon’s letter said, about an incident that occurred last spring involving a former student at Chute Middle School and that “presented a risk to students and staff.”

At that time the District 65 administration sent a letter to Chute families about a student who was said to have made a “list.” Dr. Witherspoon’s letter said District 65 officials “indicated having ‘concerns for this student and we are putting in place the necessary supports for this student.”

Once ETHS learned about the list, officials there notified the police to gather information from District 65 and from the Evanston Police Department. 

The issue became public as ETHS began notifying parents and students whose names were on the list “to assess the situation, the potential risk, and their fear. We have offered support to each of the students and families who were contacted. Schools have legal authority to address situations like this, and we always take safety concerns seriously,” Dr. Witherspoon’s letter continued.

He cautioned that the school cannot give specific details about a student personnel issue, a specific disciplinary action or a placement decision, and added, “But please know that this would not even be a news story four months later if ETHS were not committed to contacting families whenever there is an investigation that may involve their child.

“We launched a full-blown investigation and we are resolute to do what is required to protect our students and staff.”

As part of its commitment to wellbeing, ETHS has adopted ACT – Acknowledge, Care, Tell:  

• Acknowledge warning signs and anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, worried or frightened. Recognize something is wrong and take it seriously.

• Care for students/your friends; listen and tell them how much you care about them.

• Tell a trusted adult if you are worried or have concerns about your wellbeing or the wellbeing of others. ETHS students who need support may go to the Social Work Office in E123 or the Deans’ Office in H109 at any time, or complete the Incident Reporting Form. A direct link to the Incident Reporting Form has also been added to the ETHS Mobile App.

ETHS reports that data from the most recent 5Essentials Student Survey required by the State of Illinois showed that more than 92% of ETHS students reported feeling safe and comfortable with their teachers, feeling that their teachers treat them with respect and that people at the school are friendly to them.

“We intend to keep it that way!” Dr. Witherspoon’s letter continued.  … “We are excited to welcome our students for a new school year and provide them with the care, and love and attention to safety that typifies this wonderful school.”

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...