Staff and administrators at Evanston Township High School are preparing for the eventual return of students to the building at 1600 Dodge Ave. – an event they say could occur at some point in the second semester, conditions permitting.

“I anticipate that the school would certainly be closed for the month of January,” Superintendent Eric Witherspoon told the District 202 Board at its Dec. 14 meeting. “We are hoping, however, that we would be able sometime second semester to get to get our hybrid model underway.”

He said the school will follow the hybrid model posted on the website and will give a 30-day notice of the change to hybrid learning.

Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Pete Bavis and Assistant Superintendent/Principal Marcus Campbell gave an overview of the academic and physical preparations for the eventual return of students.

Acknowledging that in-person instruction is the best form of academic instruction, Dr. Bavis said, “That’s what we used to do all the time, and now we aspire to it.”

He said administrators have learned from other school districts that have implemented hybrid learning that the second-most effective instructional model is the fully remote one.

“Now we also know from districts that have opened up that the most effective model within the hybrid model is something called remote in-person instruction,” Dr. Bavis said.

In a remote in-person model, students socially distanced in a classroom connect with their peers who are learning remotely.” He said there is some value to bringing student into the school building, but “we’re bringing students in in that model to keep them apart.

“In addition, there appears to be an instructional trade-off for teachers, given the split attention required to teach those in front of us even if they’re doing it remotely right. … So it’s a real challenging instructional situation [and] all that is going to inform our planning going forward. And we keep our eyes and ears open. We are in contact with our peers in other districts to find out what works best. But right now, that’s what we know. And that’s what we’re going to start preparing for.”

Dr. Bavis concluded, “Please keep in mind that that is the third-best option available to us. And I just want to make us aware of the tradeoffs instructionally.”

Dr. Campbell described how classrooms will be reconfigured and hallways changed to allow for greater safety through social distancing.

“It’s not bringing kids together; it’s still keeping them apart, because we’ll still be in a pandemic,” he said. Classrooms are being set up with desks six feet apart, and the surplus chairs and desks moved to cafeterias and gyms for ad-hoc teaching areas.

“We’re following IDPH [Illinois Department of Public Health] protocols for air-replacement in areas for indoor music, singing, and dance classes,” Dr. Campbell said.

Every office and every classroom has a supply and return of air that has been filtered and Plexiglas has been installed in public areas. Cones and flags in the hallways will keep the students all going in one direction, he said.

“We’re buying tons of hand sanitizer, and there will be [hand sanitizer] pumping stations in the hallways. Staff and students will be expected to wear a mask,” Dr. Campbell.

He said administrators have been talking with stakeholder groups, such as the unions, “and they’ve had questions and we’ve been able to address those questions. And so we’re in the thick of planning for our hybrid model, when we get there.”

Dr. Witherspoon said screening protocols are in place for even the small staff in the building – answering questions, having temperatures taken. “We’re doing all those things. And we have still had several outbreaks in the building, just with essential personnel here,” he said.

In deciding when to bring the students back for hybrid learning, “We’re not going to play around with lives,” he said. “We’re going to pay attention to the dynamics, the science, the data that we’re getting, and we will be prepared. And, as soon as the situation improves, we will be ready to go – with a hybrid.”

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...