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The present guidelines about COVID-19 from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Illinois State Board of Education are so overwhelming as to make summer school unfeasible, Dr. Witherspoon said at the June 8 meeting of the District 202 School Board. Guidelines for fall openings, expected in July, may be less stringent, Dr. Witherspoon said, or the opposite could be true.
Public health officials are monitoring COVID-19 infection rates and are watching to see whether these increase as a result of the recent protest marches and rallies. Organizers of most if not all such events in Evanston have advised attendees to wear masks and observe proper social distancing
Dr. Witherspoon said, “We will probably be in Phase 4 [of the Restore Illinois plan] by the time the new school year rolls around. Everything in CDC will be part of the protocols. Phase 4 allows gathering in groups of 50 or more.”
He mentioned some of the 64 directives he had taken from the CDC protocols that schools must do to open safely. People using the building must maintain social distancing, use personal protective equipment, wear face coverings and have their temperature taken and be checked for symptoms before entering the building. There must be single-direction stairways, assigned seating and social-distance markers in classrooms, staggered passing periods and documented cleaning schedules that include regular and frequent cleaning of touched surfaces and disinfecting rooms.
ETHS would need to have hall monitors and bathroom monitors, stagger locker time or suspend the use of lockers and remove the public seating in the lobby. Students would have to observe social distancing at all times and would have to learn how to remove their masks appropriately for eating and drinking.
“Music programs are considered ‘highly dangerous,’” Dr. Witherspoon said; “virtual rehearsals are recommended. … Students would eat in their classrooms at tables six feet apart. We would have to limit all nonessential visitors. IEP and 504 [special education plans for specific instruction or accommodation] meetings would be done remotely.”
Buses would have one child per row and alternate-row seating, he said, and there could be no shared equipment – such as basketballs – in physical education classes.
District officials are considering such scenarios as a hybrid opening that combines in-person and remote learning, a remote opening and a delayed physical opening.
“We definitely want to figure out how to get our kids back,” Dr. Witherspoon said. “The guidelines are … simply astronomical.”
ETHS Assistant Superintendent/Principal Marcus Campbell said one question his staff is “How do we work with the CTA to make sure our kids are safe on the buses? … There’s a lot to do, and some of it just seems impossible. … Some things we just can’t meet, because the list is so long.”
Mary Rodino, ETHS Chief Financial Officer, said, “Clearly, all these things that were mentioned are going to change our financial outlook. We’ll need more staff and classroom spacing. … How many students can we fit into a classroom?” She also said, “I know there’s a learning loss from remote learning.”
Board member Gretchen Livingston said, “There are some students and faculty who can’t come back, because they are in high-risk groups. I’m wondering if you can let us know what you have done to understand how many of these people there are and where they are.”
Dr. Witherspoon said, “One of the things we will not do – and I’m sorry to say that – is guarantee we can prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the school.
“We know some students and some staff won’t come back, and that’s one of the reasons we have to be realistic and address safety first – and that’s why I’m leaning toward staring with e-learning first. I can’t get at the number, Gretchen, but what I can get at is this: It’s a problem.”
Board member Monique Parsons said ETHS should coordinate with District 65. “District 65 is not as ready as we are. I’m concerned for those students who have to take care of younger siblings and can’t log on to classes. … It’s an Evanston issue, an Evanston community issue that requires … a response from the entire community. We are responsible for figuring this whole thing, and, if ETHS opens up and District 65 doesn’t, there’s a ripple effect for our students.”
Dr. Witherspoon said Dr. Bavis and Dr. Campbell had attended some meetings with District 65 working groups. “Remember,” he said, “We didn’t have these guidelines until last week. It’s not going to be like it was.” With nearly 3,800 students and more than 500 staff members, he said, “There’s no way we can meet these guidelines with 4,300 people in the building.”
Reiterating that Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois Plan could begin in July, he said, “We’re scheduled to start in August. I suggest we start with e-learning. “