It is not clear what type of programing District 65’s schools will provide next fall, but it is unlikely they will provide normal in-classroom instruction.

At the District 65 School Board meeting on June 8, Interim Superintendent Phil Ehrhardt said administrators started to plan six weeks ago on how schools will open in the fall. Incoming Superintendent Devon Horton has “taken the baton and sprinted forward with it, which has been great,” said Dr. Ehrhardt.

Dr. Horton, who officially takes over as Superintendent of District 65 on June 18, said a task force has been formed to help shape recommendations on how students will return to school in the fall; and its first meeting was scheduled for today, June 9.

Dr. Horton, said, “I really believe … that the students do not fail.” Rather, it is “the social structures that we as adults create that fail our students and that’s what’s happening right now.

“We want to be sure as we embark on our Return to School plan, we include involved key stakeholders across, not just the District, but the City of Evanston. So with our team … we have reached out to more than 60 community members,” including parents, educators, representatives of unions, clergy, and community organizations. “We have invited constituents to be part of this large return to School task force.”

He said the task force will plan and build out four different options because there is uncertainty on how things will look in late August.

 “We’re currently in a state, we don’t know what it’s going to look like when we return to school,” said Dr. Horton. “We don’t know if we’re going to return earlier, on the time we have scheduled, or even later. But this task force will play a major role in bringing recommendations to the Board.”

He said if the task force builds out a plan for each of the four options, there will be a viable plan for whatever option the School Board decides to adopt, and the community’s voice will have been involved in shaping that plan.

The four options are highlighted in bold below. The italicized text is a description of the option provided by the District, followed by Dr. Horton’s comments relating to each option.

First, Schools Open with No Contact Limiting

“Some students and staff may need additional support or accommodations in place (which may include remote learning or work environment due to individual medical needs and concerns).”

Dr. Horton said, “We understand that this option is probably not going to happen in the fall, but when it happens we want to be fully prepared for that.”

Second, Schools Open with Significant Safety, Hygiene, and Social Distancing.

“The school day will look very different in order to adhere to established safety guidelines. New procedures may include a staggered schedule (the hybrid of in-person and remote instruction, social distancing in classrooms, no large gatherings, arrival/dismissal schedule, and thorough hygiene measures.”

Third, Schools Open for Some Students and Staff with Significant Safety, Hygiene, and Social Distancing

“This option is a hybrid of remote and in person instruction that may prioritize the return of students based on age, academic standing, access to resources and care at home, and other unique needs.”

Dr. Horton said, ‘This option was really generated from the responses from our survey concerned about our marginalized students who may not be benefitting from the current remote structure. We want to be sure we have options in the fall that are viable and that are effective.”

He added that the term “other unique needs” in the italicized text “really falls into the category of SEL [social and emotional learning], full support, and mental health, so many of those areas that are so important.”

Fourth, Schools Remain Closed and Remote Learning Continues

“With feedback from educators, students and families we continue to refine and strengthen our current approach to provide equitable and sustained learning experiences for all students.”

Dr. Horton said, “You heard me mention the fact that we must look in the mirror. District 65, this team and our staff, we’ve looked in the mirror and we know there’s a lot of hard work that has been put in. We also are expecting to do this better. The country was hit with the pandemic out of nowhere, so we had to create something that was viable and that made sense and now we know there’s time for us to put all the structures in place for this to be effective.

Fifth, New Calendar is Implemented

“A new attendance calendar could be adopted by the District. All scenarios are viable options, just with a new timeline. This would require stakeholder collaboration.”

Under any one of these options, a new attendance calendar would be adopted by the District, said Dr. Horton.

“This will require stakeholder collaboration, which we are engaging in now,” said Dr. Horton. “We are fully invested in hearing the voices of all as we plan for something … no one has the answer to, and we are going to be fully open to what those decisions will look like.

“Our goal is not allow our students to fail and definitely not create structures that we create socially that allow them to do that.”

Board President Suni Kartha said, “I know people are anxious to know what the fall is going to look like, I think we are all anxious to know what the fall is going to look like. But we also know these are things that are going to require a great deal of thought and varying perspectives. I appreciate the thoughtfulness with which you are approaching this. I know we will be keeping State mandates and public health guidance, certainly at the forefront in making sure everything comports with those and just meets the needs of students.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...