At their Aug. 10 meeting, members of the District 202 School Board approved a resolution for the opening of Evanston Township High School. Like the previous one, this meeting was held remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Superintendent Eric Witherspoon reminded the Board members they had approved a framework at their July 13 meeting. This reopening plan, he said, differs in only in one respect from the plan presented at that meeting: There is no set time for when the school building would reopen for students, faculty and staff and the hybrid learning model would begin.

On July 13, the plan was for the school to open on Aug. 17 for remote learning and implement hybrid – that is, part remote and part on-site – learning after Labor Day if possible. By the end of that week, the hybrid model did not seem feasible for the safety of staff and students, so Dr. Witherspoon said the current plan is to continue indefinitely remote learning for all students.

The increased number of COVID-19 cases in Illinois, in Chicago and Evanston and in sports camps and high school sports teams that had begun practice, Dr. Witherspoon said, convinced administrators that the school could not open safely for hybrid learning as soon as Sept. 8.

“As you know we presented to you a framework for a reopening plan at your last board meeting. … [W]e asked you at that point to only approve the framework, because we have not completed all the details. …  We put the framework out on purpose because before we came with a plan, we wanted to get feedback, and we got feedback from our employees: They would come in, but they were scared to death.

“And so we really realized that our plan was solid. It includes e-learning, and then it includes a hybrid. It includes starting in the fall with the learning as we discussed, but we decided it was too ambitious to think that we could commit now, the opening after Labor Day.” The administrators and the planning team of more than 100 people will evaluate the COVID-19 situation regularly and notify students and families of changes.

“We didn’t create this pandemic, but we’re going to do everything in our power to not be putting people at risk.”

The Board unanimously passed the resolution approving the plan to reopen Evanston Township High School. While the plan includes hybrid learning, there is no set date yet for it to begin.

Before adjourning, Board members thank the administrators for their work on the plan, acknowledging that almost every decision has several ramifications that each need to be considered for the safety and well-being of staff, teachers and students.  

Board member Gretchen Livingston said,I am just so appreciative and supportive of our administrators who have been dealing with this just unprecedented issue of the pandemic and trying to prepare for a school year in our enormous building, with our enormous student population, just wildly diverse in so many different ways. And secondly, I want to say relatedly I absolutely and fully support the cautious approach that we’re taking. … [T]o say that we ought to open in person and have people in the school subject to the potential risks that are out there, which includes the very real risk of dying – it’s like playing Russian roulette.”

Board Vice President Monique Parsons said, “I think our community needs to understand that that it doesn’t get easier. It becomes more challenging. Online is not easy. And definitely bringing us our children into the high schools is not easy, nor is it the right decision.” Apparently addressing students, she said, “This has been a disruption in your life I can’t even imagine. … So know that no decision is an easy one. I know that our students, we know that this is affecting you on every level. So this is not business as usual. And I don’t want you to think that these conversations are casual, or that this Board meeting is a casual thing. This is a very difficult process that we’re in, that none of us asked for. So students, please have a wonderful year and do the best that you can. But most importantly, reach out to any caring adult so that you can get the help and the support that you need to get through this because we need you to get through this. We desperately need you to.”

Board President Pat Savage-Williams added, “We’ll be talking about this for the rest of our lives. And really, for the students, it just is such an incredible disruption that you won’t be able to get back or make right. … So we really want you to do everything you can do to take care of yourself because we want you to be healthy. On the other side, we want you to be healthy, physically, and as healthy emotionally as possible when we get to the other side. …  I’m starting to think about and talk about the other side. ..If you are so inclined, keep a journal; just write stuff, write it down; write down your thoughts, and keep talking to somebody who can help you process this. And please, please, please take care of yourself and each other.”

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...