School District 65 currently plans to return to in-person learning in three phases, according to a weekly update provided to the District 65 community by Superintendent Devon Horton and information posted in new resource hub posted on the District’s website.

Dr. Horton said, “Our plan is to bring children back this calendar year and as early as later this month. This, of course, remains subject to public health conditions.”

Phase 1, October

During the week of Oct. 5, “Approximately 86 students have returned in-person for our School Age Child Care Remote Learning Camps. More students will continue to be enrolled,” said Dr. Horton.

In addition, he said, “In late October, we expect to bring back 95 students with IEPs attending specialized programs at Park, Rice, RISE (Rigorous Individualized Specialized Program) at King Arts, STEP (Structured Teaching Education Program) at Lincoln, and the Joseph E. Hill Early Childhood Center. The District is currently engaged in bargaining and parents/guardians can expect to hear from their principals no later than the week of October 19 to confirm details.”

Phase 2, Nov. 16

The District is currently planning to bring back pre-K to sixth grade students for in-person learning on Nov. 16. A few weeks ago the plan was to bring back pre-K to fifth grade students.

As before, the District plans to give a priority to students who meet three of the five priority factors identified by the District. The priority factors are:

·       Special Education – Does the student have an IEP or 504 Plan?

·       Emerging Bilingual (EB) – Is the student an Emergent Bilingual?

·       Low Income: Is the student eligible for free or reduced price meals?

·       McKinney Vento: Is the student currently experiencing transitional living?

·       Age: Is the student in early childhood (0-5 yrs), K, 1st grade, or 2nd grade?

“These students referenced above have historically been marginalized in educational institutions both locally and across our country,” said Dr. Horton. “Further, we strongly believe that these children have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and resulting school closures. For these reasons, they are being prioritized among the first to return. This being said, they will not be the only ones to return. If health conditions allow, we look to have all students return who requested in-person learning.”

Dr. Horton added, “We are looking at options on how to provide in-person support for 7th and 8th grade students in this same time frame.”

Phase 3, post Nov. 16

 “Approximately 49% of families requested in-person learning. Students who did not return in November will return in this phase,” says the District’s website.

Why a Phased Approach?

 The District’s ability to provide in-person learning for students is limited by two factors, building capacity and teacher availability. On Sept. 25, Dr. Horton said:

·       “In order to maintain social distancing and compliance with Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) health and safety guidelines, we are able to bring back approximately 50% of students for in-person learning (based on total enrollment across the District).  

·       “Based on our return data, approximately 60% of staff across the District will be returning in person; this includes 53% of teachers returning for in-person instruction.”

·       In response to a survey, 49% of parents indicated a preference for in-person learning; 40% indicated a preference to continue with remote learning; and 11% did not indicate a preferred pathway. 

Dr. Horton said some parents asked why the District could not provide in-person learning for everyone who requested it since 53% of the teachers were willing to return for in-person learning, and parents of only 49% of the students desired to return.

Dr. Horton said building capacity, the availability of staff, and student return numbers “are all connected and create a complex scheduling situation. This is the reason in moving forward with a phased approach. We are also seeing this approach used in varying ways in other districts.”

He also explained that in light of social distancing guidelines and building capacities, “we have in-person class sizes that are half of what would be the normal size.” With smaller class sizes, one teacher will be able to teach fewer students than normal.

“We are working on a model for the second phase and will be communicating more information in the coming weeks,” said Dr. Horton.

 Other Considerations

 Dr. Horton also addressed a story aired on a news station last week that referred  a group of District 65 parents who circulated a petition regarding the District’s reopening plans and implied that the parents  sent threatening emails to administrators, board members, and Dr. Horton. “This is completely untrue,” said Dr. Horton. “These parents were simply advocating for their children and the expanded return of students in November. I continue to believe we are all in this together and we must continue to support one another.

“I can’t say this enough,” Dr. Horton continued. “We know this is a really difficult, unprecedented situation for everyone. While some are most definitely feeling it harder than others, it is challenging for all. I am grateful to be a part of this strong Evanston/Skokie community. I know we will get through this very challenging period if we continue to work together.”

Dr. Horton added that the District will determine whether it is safe to return to in-person learning using criteria identified by the Illinois Department of Public Health. The RoundTable has been monitoring those criteria on a regular basis. Click here for recent coverage.


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...