Administrators say students will return to ETHS for in-person instruction, but it will not be the same ETHS they left in March.

Although the details will not be presented to the public until July 17, Evanston Township High School administrators at the July 13 School Board meeting presented their framework for the coming academic year.

The year will begin on Aug. 17 as planned, but no students will attend in-person classes until after Labor Day. On Sept. 9, the first of four cohorts – about 950 students – will enter the building at 1600 Dodge Ave. On successive days, each of the other cohorts will report for in-person learning, with each cohort in the building only one day per week.

Mondays will be reserved for staff training and academic support, and students. During the remaining weekdays, students will be engaged in synchronous learning – that is, all students will attend their classes whether remotely or in person.

Administrators and teachers have not yet assigned students to the weekday cohorts.

During the three-plus-hour Board meeting, Superintendent Eric Witherspoon, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Pete Bavis and Assistant Superintendent/Principal Marcus Campbell explained the safety protocols and the academics of this framework – which they said is a work in progress – as well as the thinking behind it.

Board members adopted a resolution approving the framework for re-opening the school.

Dr. Witherspoon recounted ETHS’s mid-March decision to extend spring break by a week, a measure followed almost immediately by Governor J.B. Pritzker’s closing of all schools in the state.

In June, he said, “ISBE [the Illinois State Board of Education] released what they call their part three … and that was the final version of the reopening of schools in the fall. There have been about four different versions of that come out since then, with some modifications, but essentially, what they provided initially has remained the same with clarifications.”

ISBE’s guidelines were aligned with those from the Centers for Disease Control, he noted, adding, “The CDC has just within the last week indicated that it will not be changing its guidelines that those guidelines may be may be clarified a little bit. … Our guiding principle has been to maintain a healthy and safe environment for our students and staff to maintain our commitment to equity to provide meaningful and engaging academic experiences when we reopen for all students, and to address the social and emotional well-being of our students and staff as well.

“And I want to stress right now that it’s going to have to be a living document. Because we know that the conditions are changing rapidly with this virus and, and so we have what we think we think on Friday will be a really good plan.”

Safety Protocols

Dr. Witherspoon acknowledged the seriousness of the pandemic. “I want to begin by stressing that this is not a minor discussion. We’re talking about life and death here. … So, I can tell you that everybody who’s been involved in putting this framework and ultimate business plan together has kept that in mind.

“We are going to do everything we can to avoid increasing the risk for students and adults who have to come into this building and will be striving for a really good educational experience for our students.”

The high school will adhere to the Governor’s and the CDC guidelines requiring face-coverings and social distancing and barring the congregation of large groups.

Dr. Campbell said, “One thing I want everybody to keep in mind: Sometimes it’s easy to say, ‘Why can’t they just do this?’ or ‘Why they just they can’t do that?’ Well, we probably thought about it. And we’ve ruled out certain things just because there are so many unintended consequences when we’re building a school based on the CDC guidelines and based on what we’ve gotten from ISBE.

“This is not the ETHS we left, so there’s a lot to figure out. 

“The safety of our students and staff is our most priority. We have had lots of robust debate about ‘How do we open morally?’ and ‘How do we open ethically to make sure that we can safely provide the kinds of things for our students and our staff while we attempt to run a hybrid school?’”

He said administrators believe they can provide proper social distancing for the 1,500 people in the school on any given day – 950 students and 500-600 employees – by opening more entrances and exits and minimizing the number of students in a hallway.

Dr. Campbell said administrators are looking for a way for staff and students to self-certify. They are also discouraging all but essential visitors.

“We’re going to be asking students and staff to scan, and we’re still having some conversation about how to scan without drawing a crowd at the door, and we’re looking to see if there’s any other way that we can do attendance, which will provide us with contact tracing if someone becomes infected.”

A ‘Real’ School Day for All Students

Dr. Witherspoon said administrators decided to delay in-person learning until after Labor Day so that the staff would understand how the school day will unfold.

The cohorts will be assigned near Labor Day.

All students will be attending class each day. “It’s a regular school day, although we have a blocked out differently. … Some of the time you’re in the room with the teacher. So, the teacher can get that in person connection with all students. And other times you’re doing it remotely,” he said, adding that all students will have the option to attend classes only remotely.

Dr. Bavis said, “The first thing to know is that e-learning will be substantially different from what students experienced in the spring, when we had to make that transition to remote learning quickly. … In contrast, enhanced e-learning will include a return to high academic expectations.

“We’re going to take attendance and we’re going to have a schedule and you’re going to be required to be on your device and zooming or Google Hangout during class time.

“We’re going to have returned to grading we’re going to grade using our A to F scale.

“We’re also going to have these required live synchronous classes, where your students will meet with their teacher.

“And we’re going to have a return to assessment. Assessment will be a little bit different because all student you know, at any given time, three quarters of our students will be working remotely. “So, we’re going to approach assessment as though it were ‘Open book, open notebook open Internet.’

The new assessments ask a lot more of students, Dr. Bavis said, “because we won’t be relying on recall and lower-order questions. We’ll be asking more sophisticated questions that go well beyond a Google search. … To that end, we’ve provided required professional development this summer for our teaching staff through our ETHS Learning Academy.”

In professional development, there was a unit on how teachers can develop a climate, connect with students, delivering content and having robust discussions “that are both synchronous in real time and asynchronous using discussion boards, flip grids and things like that. … And, finally, there was a unit on how to provide students with feedback, because we know what a remote anytime students are accessing the content and their assessment and their schoolwork via online environment. “Anytime we know that we only have about a quarter of our kids ultimately in front of us at a given time. That feedback becomes particularly important. It elevates the core principles of teaching, you know, good assessment, good feedback.”

Dr. Bavis said the school day will not be a nine-period day. “If you’re at home, and you’re going through a nine-period day and you’re going from zoom to zoom to zoom to zoom, you’re going to get zoom fatigue pretty quickly.”

As examples, Tuesday’s block could contain periods 1 through 5, and Wednesday’s block, periods 6 through 9, with a break in the middle and for lunch.

“We also have built in office hours on Wednesdays and Fridays, and that schedule, you know, that block schedule is a Tuesday, Wednesday, and then it’s a repeat on a Thursday, Friday,” Dr. Bavis said.

“You’ll have 950 students here on Tuesday and Wednesday, meeting with their teachers going through that schedule on Those days, and then you’ll have a different group of 950 students on Thursday, Friday, and every two weeks you’ll see all of your students have students will be able to access and have time with their FaceTime with their teachers.

“And that FaceTime is really important. We envision that as being, you know, time to connect with students, time to have like a tutorial session time to do some hands-on learning. … So, when you come in and you meet with a teacher, that’s a special time, that’s really a time to connect, again, are all going to be wearing these masks. So, you’re going to have masks on, which are very important. So, it’s going to be a different environment and a different experience for kids.”

Mondays will be devoted to office hours and student supports, Dr. Bavis said; and there will be time for professional development. He also said staff members are also planning for a setback, should an outbreak occur in the community.

ETHS will be a closed campus, he said. “We’re going to manage and assign students to specific locations in the building during free periods lunch and study halls. So, students will be assigned to spaces this is this is again to control the flow of students to ensure we have no more than 50 students in any given large space. We’re going to use multiple rooms for our lunch; we’re not just going to use the cafeteria; we’re putting online several other large rooms, students will be assigned to those night for lunches.

He also stressed the importance of wearing a mask. “If you’re not wearing a mask, you’re not going to be able to access the in-person instruction. We won’t be denying you an education, you’ll simply have to work remotely because you’re on the remote learning plan because we cannot compromise the health and well-being of our students and staff.”

Dr. Campbell said counselors and social workers would continue to work with students. “We are also looking to integrate more social emotional learning within the instructional … because as we remind ourselves or think about it, we’re still in a crisis.”

ETHS Board Approves Resolution

The following information was distributed to ETHS students, families, and staff on July 13, 2020.

Today, July 13, the D202 Board of Education adopted a resolution to approve the framework of the ETHS Covid-19 Reopening Plan. The framework aligns with the Illinois State Board of Education’s (ISBE) publication Starting the 2020-21 School Year June 23, 2020 Part Three Transition Joint Guidance. The July 13 virtual Board meeting can be viewed on the ETHS YouTube channel.


With the approval of the overall framework at the Board meeting,  ETHS is in a position to release additional plan details on Friday, July 17, 2020. The guiding principles of the framework are:

Maintain a healthy and safe environment for all students and staff;

Maintain our commitment to equity;

Provide meaningful and engaging academic experiences for all students;

Address the social and emotional needs of all students and staff;

Provide consistency and stability for all students and staff; and

Provide professional development for staff that enhances e-learning.

As ETHS continues the careful process of building details of the framework, we understand that ETHS students and families will want to provide feedback soon after the plan is released. In order to be able to address questions and concerns in a timely manner, the virtual E-Town Hall event has been rescheduled to Wednesday, July 22 at 6:00pm. More information about viewing the virtual event and how to submit questions will also be provided on July 17.

Mary Gavin

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...