At a public hearing on Oct. 7 at Evanston Township High School, school faculty members and administrators presented the program for “e-learning days,” days when the school is closed for an emergency but students will still be able to access their classes via the Internet.

School officials assume that in such an event all students will be able to access the Internet. All incoming freshmen at ETHS receive a Chromebook, which they keep until graduation. Students without Internet access at home are able to borrow mobile hotspots, which provide Internet connection, for up to one quarter.

Director of Instructional Technology David Chan and Technology Integration Specialists Melanie Marzen and Mina Marien explained how an e-learning day at ETHS would unfold. 

Since an e-learning day would typically take place on a snow day, students and faculty would be alerted via email, on the school’s web page and by the Communications Department that severe weather was coming. Teachers, who have received training in e-learning days, would have prepared in advance 42-minutes classes for each period they teach – 30 minutes of instruction and 12 minutes of classwork related to the lesson.

Students must receive at least five hours of instruction or school work, per the Regional Office of Education. In addition, the school must make accommodations for students with special needs.

Students must log in, and teachers must log students’ assignments in their gradebook. Students unable to access the Internet on an e-learning day may apply for an excused absence.

By State law, a school may not have more e-learning days than emergency days allowed.

The school will be closed during an e-learning day at ETHS, but support staff, including custodial staff will be allowed into the building.

Since E-learning days will be primarily utilized on severe weather days, Ms. Marien said, teachers will be working remotely. “They are asked to be available via email for students during the school hours and many are likely to be accessible beyond these hours,” she added.

 “Many lessons will be posted via Google Classroom, while others will be shared on teacher websites or via email. Live, online learning is possible and available for teachers to utilize, but we anticipate that most learning will take place asynchronously, that is, not in real time,” Ms. Marien said.

 Board member Pat Maunsell asked how teachers have been trained for e-learning days.

Ms. Marien said teachers have time on Mondays to meet and talk one-on-one about professional matters. “Teachers should have something ready to go [on e-learning days] or figure out alternatives. I think many teachers are pretty comfortable with this.”

Mr. Chan said, “Teachers in general have their lessons planned two or three weeks in advance. They can continue with the lessons they have already planned or do something new.”

Student Board member Echo Allen said, “I feel this might be setting students up for failure – for all nine periods of 42 minutes each.”

“The ‘42 minutes’ is a great point,” said Ms. Marien. “We put that guideline in so teachers can plan. We don’t expect 42-minute lesson or 30 minutes of work. This is a benchmark for planning. Students should have an idea of how long [the work] should take. The students shouldn’t spend one or two hours on this.”

Board member Jude Laude asked, “Is this a loss of instruction?”

Mr. Chan, “It will be used as an emergency day – which is likely to be a storm day.”

“It would count as an instruction day?” Mr. Laude asked.

“Yes,” Mr. Chan said.

Board President Pat Savage-Williams said, “As we’re getting closer and watching the weather, teachers will clip a lesson together.”

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...