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At the District 65 School Board meeting on Oct. 27, Superintendent Devon Horton shared some adjustments in the metrics that School District 65 plans to consider in deciding whether or not to open the schools for in-person learning on Nov. 16.

One change appears to be a willingness to use an 8% test positivity rate for Suburban Cook County, and a 3% test positivity rate for the zip codes of students who attend District 65.

Last Friday, the District suspended some of its in-person learning programs due the dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases. Dr. Horton said the State of Illinois had the highest number of new COVID-19 cases on Friday since the pandemic began; and on Saturday it had the second highest number. He said there are a lot of unknowns and he would “stand on the side of health and safety anytime.

“There’s research that says that children are not carriers or … they can’t get ill. But there’s also research that says that they can. So I will not gamble with any child’s life. We will not be known as the team that opened up our doors out of fear or uncertain times and someone happens to get sick or ill or pass away,” Dr. Horton said.

“We’re still continuing to work and bargaining with our unions to be sure that we have a plan when we can open our doors,” he said. “On October 30, we will be actually sharing our process and updating the community on if we can open for November 16.”

He said the District is still adhering to the guidelines contained in the reimagining report shared with teachers, staff, and the community in late July.

Dr. Horton also summarized some changes to the metrics the District was looking at in determining whether to return to in-person learning. He began with the test positivity rate. “We’ve made an adjustment because we saw schools that were able to operate with a 3%,” he said. “So we now are looking at a seven-day rolling average, seven out of 10 days positivity rate that must be 8% or lower. Surprisingly, it’s right in that range. It has jumped quite a bit.”

Yesterday IDPH reported that the test positivity rate for Suburban Cook County was 7.7% as of Oct. 23. Today IDPH reported that the test positivity rate was 8.0% as of Oct. 24. (IDPH’s target is 5% or less).

Dr. Horton did not mention two other key metrics that he previously said the District was monitoring and that now seem to be eliminated from the District’s metrics.

  • First, that the number of new cases per 100,000 in a 7-day period in Suburban Cook County meet IDPH’s target of 50 cases or less. Yesterday the number of new cases in Suburban Cook County was 236 per 100,000;
  • Second, that the total number of new cases in the most recent 7-day period in Suburban Cook County should be decreasing or stable compared to the total number of cases in the prior 7-day period. Yesterday the increase between the two 7-day periods jumped from 4,826 cases to 5,836 cases.

IDPH recommends that the above two metrics be used in deciding whether to open schools for in-person learning.

Dr. Horton also said any of the following may warrant not opening the schools: if there is a test positivity rate exceeding 3% for the attendance area zip codes, or if the advisors from the Health and Human Services Departments of Evanston or Skokie suspend in-person learning for any public related reason.

He also said if the District does not have enough PPE or cleaning gear to support the staff and students, and if the District did not have the staff, those would also be reasons to shut the doors.

The District’s new metrics are available here.

At the Oct. 26 Board meeting, the presidents of five employee unions in District 65, presented a statement listing five things that the unions wanted “because we want to successfully return to a safe and healthy environment.” The things requested are:

  • “We are requesting training, such as best practices for using PPE, safety and cleaning procedures, be available before in-person learning begins in order to keep our school community and Evanston community safe.
  • “We are requesting written confirmation that all buildings, where staff will be working with other staff or students, that ventilation and air quality will be up to CDC standards for students and staff returning in-person. Further, we are asking how this will be monitored as the weather conditions change to ensure safe ventilation and air quality. Finally, how will this information be shared with all families and staff?
  • “We are also requesting that the written communication about the process District 65 is using to make decisions remains consistent and does not change to allow for more hazardous conditions for our students and staff.
  • “We have seen communication for the community on the website for the different phases and we would like to ensure that those detailed plans for each phase are also shared with staff.
  • “And finally, we are requesting clear and detailed information in terms of what instructional model we will be using and how this model will impact learning and staff roles. We recognize the in-person school experience will be different from what our students, families, educators and staff experienced in past years. Therefore, we are asking that these differences be shared in writing with students, families, educators and all staff to prepare.”

The statement concluded, “We continue to request to work collaboratively to find solutions in order to create transparent and consistent return to school plans that are responsive to the needs of our students and staff. In the absence of collaboration, we are asking for answers to our above requests in a timely manner.”

The unions represent more than 1,000 staff, including support staff and certified teachers, secretaries, health clerks, childcare, custodians and maintenance staff.

Dr. Horton said later in the meeting that the District had been holding negotiations with union representatives.

 “I want everyone to know we miss our students, and we want our students to be in school,” said Dr. Horton. “But we also don’t want to jeopardize the lives of our students, our families, and definitely not our staff.”

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...