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At the District 65 virtual School Board meeting held on March 23, Interim Co-Superintendent Phil Ehrhardt and Board President Suni Kartha said the District was evaluating whether schools would open on April 13, but that plans were being made for e-learning in the event they do not.
On March 12, School District 65 announced, in light of the COVID-19 crisis, it would close all its schools at the end of the school day on March 13 and plan to re-open on April 13, after spring break. The District implemented its e-learning plan beginning Monday, March 16.
Ms. Kartha opened the March 23 meeting saying, “We have needed to make adjustments we never contemplated.” She thanked the Interim Superintendents, administrators, teachers and staff for the “tremendous efforts” they have taken in the last few weeks. “I know that there’s been a lot of long, long days and late nights to create and continuously evaluate our e-learning plan that can meet the needs of all of our learners.”
Addressing whether schools would open on April 13, Ms. Kartha said, “I know that there are questions about what the future holds and when and if we will be able to return to school this academic year. Please know that we continue to monitor this situation very closely along with our colleagues at ETHS and the City of Evanston, with City and State health departments, with ISBE, with regional superintendents of schools, we have regular calls with our Mayor’s Coronavirus Task Force which includes leaders from all sections of the community, and includes State and federal representatives. We will continue to work collaboratively with all of these groups and make decisions with the most current information that we have, keeping public health and our student needs in the forefront.”
Dr. Ehrhardt gave an update on the status of e-learning. He said, “Our CNI and technology teams have done stellar work in that area. We have distributed 700 devices and just over 200 hot spots for those families who did not have the access for that.
“We’ve had positive feedback so far and have been planning actively in how we’re going to move in the future. We are looking at providing additional professional development for the staff and allocating time for those to be able to meaningfully participate in that to try it out and collaborate with their colleagues as well.
“The team is also in the process of working with parents and coming up with some training for parents who may need additional help as well.
“We’re not sure what the future holds on the timing of this beyond the Act of God days which we’re currently in and looking at how do we transition if we need to, to a truly e-learning scenario.”
Dr. Ehrhardt said the District had arranged for custodians to start cleaning the buildings and had provided safety training to the custodians and provided them with safety equipment. After the Governor issued the stay-at-home order last Friday, though, the custodians have been staying at home. They will resume to clean the school building, and the playground equipment, once they are authorized to do so, he said.
School Districts 65 and 202 announced on March 13 that they were partnering with the City of Evanston Recreation Department to provide free meals to families while schools were closed. Under the plan, free, cold breakfasts and lunches are to be served to youth ages 1 to 18 years old at locations throughout the City, Monday through Friday, beginning Monday, March 16 through April 3. There are no residency or income-based restrictions to participate in the program. Meals are provided “grab-and-go.”
Starting Monday, March 23, the plan was modified to distribute five days of food on Mondays, rather than having people come for food each day of the week. There were food shortages at the distribution centers, though, and they ran out of food.
Ms. Kartha acknowledged there were “some hic-ups” in the plan earlier in the day, but added, “We are working to figure out how to fix that for this week and moving forward.”
Dr. Ehrhardt added that he and District 202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon were planning to talk about how to address the issues and improve the food distribution program going forward. He said they were thinking of having another food distribution on Wednesday.
Board member Rebeca Mendoza suggested that since the District was continuing to pay the bus transportation company during the period that schools were closed, that the Districts consider using the buses and bus drivers to deliver food to families.
She said the State and the School Districts were encouraging families to stay at home and not to congregate, and this would be a way to enable families to follow those directives.
Dr. Ehrhardt said, “We are exploring that option.”
Ms. Mendoza added, in a message meant for families, “There isn’t a shortage of food. So if your family needs a meal, please come and get the meal. There will be more meals available in the coming weeks.”
Ms. Kartha emphasized that the food distribution program was not limited to households that qualified for free- or reduced-fee lunch, but it was “open to anyone who needs it.”
Today, March 24, the partners announced there would be a food distribution on Wednesday, March 25.
Using School Buildings as Child Care Centers
Board member Sergio Hernandez asked if the school buildings could be used as child care centers. Ms. Kartha and Ms. Mendoza said early childcare providers were exploring this possibility.