District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton today announced he had pushed back opening the District’s schools from the possible Sept. 29 date until at least Nov. 16. His announcement indicated the District will be on a trimester rather than semester system.
“I have made the difficult decision to delay the start of in-person learning until the start of the second trimester (November 16). As I have stated from the beginning, our goal remains to open our schools and to welcome students and staff back only when it is safe to do so,” Dr. Horton said in a letter to District 65 families, which was also posted in English and Spanish on the District 65 website, district 65.net.
“To provide understanding and consistency, any decisions regarding the reopening of schools will be made on a trimesterly basis. Notice to staff and families will be provided at least two weeks in advance. As there is information to share, we will provide weekly updates on the status of health metrics, building preparations, and resources and support,” Dr. Horton’s letter said.
Several factors formed the basis of the decision, Dr. Horton said: public health conditions, staffing and building considerations and guidance from the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH).
Since Skokie and Evanston are following regional guidance as part of Governor JB Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan, it “simply did not make sense” for the District to implement its own metrics, the letter said.
The letter cited IDPH that new cases per 100,000 in Cook County are at a “Warning Level, ‘indicating increased risk for COVID-19 spread. The test positivity rate for Region 10, which includes Suburban Cook County, has recently been above 6%, and “The WHO [World Health Organization] initially suggested a positivity rate of around 3–12% as a general benchmark of adequate testing, and has most recently recommended that test positivity should remain at 5% or lower for 14 days before regions reopen.”
While Evanston’s daily new cases have been fewer than 10 for weeks, Dr. Horton’s letter said said, more than half of the District’s staff do not live in Evanston or Skokie but in many areas of Chicagoland – and some live out of state.
“While we will make decisions with our community in mind, we have also looked at 32 districts in North Cook County to understand their reopening plans. There are six that are currently using a hybrid model. The rest are fully remote. This is important, because we will look to these six districts on their ability to maintain safety and a consistent, responsive learning environment for their students and staff,” it continued.
Acknowledging the difficulties remote learning presents for families, Dr. Horton’s letter said the District is taking the following steps to support families:
working with community partners to provide remote learning and childcare support to a limited number of K-8 families from the Fifth and Second Wards as well as students in South Evanston. These camps, hosted by community partners, will be at no cost to families, and will follow all IDPH/CDC guidelines.
lining up tutoring support for students on Monday afternoons as well as free enrichment activities with the assistance of key community partners.
exploring the feasibility of offering some in-person engagement for select students in our specialized IEP service programs including Park and Rice. More information will be provided as it becomes available.
In addition, the City of Evanston has several Fall Camp options to provide care and remote learning support. Camps are held during school hours and scholarships are available to families who qualify for free and reduced-price meals.
In conclusion, the letter said the District would closely monitor health metrics and the overall situation. “Reopening buildings will require a decrease in the positivity rate or viable research that demonstrates safety in reopening with higher regional positivity rates. Each school has a ‘Let’s Get it Right Team’ that is working very hard to get buildings ready for whenever we can return to in-person. In the meantime, we will continue to refine our remote learning plan and identify additional supports.
“We want nothing more than to open our doors and to hear the laughter and joy in the hallways. And yet, we must ensure that we can do this safely. I am simply not willing to risk the health of any child or staff member – or a member of their families. Our community has remained extremely vigilant in prioritizing health and safety.”
Dr. Horton said he is “grateful to be a part of a community that is willing and able to support these efforts” and promised that “more information on all programming will be forthcoming.”