Getting your Evanston news from Facebook? Try the Evanston RoundTable’s free daily and weekend email newsletters – sign up now!
By Larry Gavin and Mary Helt Gavin
An article that appeared in The Daily Northwestern on March 2 quoted Devon Horton, Superintendent of School District 65, as saying that an Aug. 4 article in the Evanston RoundTable misrepresented how students would be prioritized in the District’s reopening plans. The RoundTable article, written by Larry Gavin, contained no misrepresentations. Dr. Horton’s claim is unfounded.
Mr. Gavin posted one article on Aug. 1, 2020, “What Will Remote Learning Look Like in the 2020-2021 Year?” and a second one on Aug. 4, 2020, “How School District 65 Plans to Keep Students and Teachers Safe During In-Person Learning.” The articles are available here and here.
These articles were based on a report, “Reimagining Education, A Guide to the 2020-2021 School Year” and on additional information that was provided in a 90-minute online town hall session at which District 65 administrators presented answers to pre-submitted questions on July 29, 2020.
At the online town hall, the questions were read by District 65’s Director of Communications, and she called on a specific administrator to answer the question. It appeared that the administrators knew what questions they would be asked, and they had time to think about and prepare their responses before the town hall was held.
In each of Mr. Gavin’s articles there was a section that discussed that the District might not be able to bring all students back into the schools for in-person learning during the pandemic because social distancing limited the amount of classroom space that could be used, and because many teachers did not want to teach in-person classes during the pandemic.
The articles also contained a few paragraphs summarizing what top administrators said about prioritizing students in the event more students wanted to return for in-person learning that there were spaces for. Each article said:
“Latarsha Green, Deputy Superintendent, said that one of the District’s task forces considered what the District should do in the event more students applied to take on-site learning than there were available slots. She said the task force and administrators decided to give the following categories of students a priority: ‘students receiving free or reduced lunch, Black and Brown students, students who received an I [Incomplete] or less than 50% on their report cards, emerging bilinguals, and students with IEPs. There are also other categories in relation to students who are not performing according to reading or math grade-level expectations, and students with no comorbidity factors.’
“Dr. Horton said in terms of prioritizing, ‘we’ll be targeting our dependent learners. Those are students that are marginalized first, as far as how we will serve them.
“’We are in a pandemic,’ Dr. Horton continued. And we also know that everyone is affected by this differently. But there was a pandemic before this. That was inequity and racism, and classism and all of these other things. And so I just want to make sure that as we’re making a decision – no decision is going to make everyone happy – we understand that. We’re trying to support every single child to the best of our ability, and we can’t allow a political cash train to take over our decision-making regarding how we return our students to school. We have to make sure that students who’ve been oppressed, that we don’t continue to oppress them and that we give them opportunity.
“’I’ve heard for quite some time that this is a community that’s about equity for Black and Brown students, for special education students, or LGBTQ students. We know that this is important work, and we’re going to prioritize that.’”
The full questions and the full answers to the questions summarized above are set out below.
Dr. Green was Deputy Superintendent of District 65, one of the District’s top administrators. Dr. Green was also the Group Moderator of the Return to School Task Force, Scenario C Group, which had 15 members. The Scenario C Group was tasked with examining the option of implementing a hybrid model that would use remote instruction and in-person instruction and that might prioritize the return of students. She was selected as the spokesperson for District 65 to answer the question on how the District would prioritize the return of students.
Dr. Horton spoke after Dr. Green did at the townhall, and he did not say that Dr. Green misspoke, nor did he correct anything she said.
In addition, Beatrice Davis, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources, spoke after Dr. Green. She said,
“So we will have to prioritize which students return. In terms of the second part of that question. You know, there’s a possibility that we’re going to have parents who want their children to return in person, and we’re not going to have enough educators to accommodate that. And so we are going to prioritize, as has been stated before, the in person learning options for those students who meet the priority criteria that we discussed in Scenario C that was recommended by part of the task force, as well as what’s been recommended by ISBE.”
Dr. Davis confirmed that “we are going to prioritize” students who meet the priority criteria discussed in Scenario C that was recommended by part of the task force…” This is what Dr. Green referred to.
Dr. Horton also is quoted in The Daily Northwestern as saying, “In every priority group we have on our website, we don’t have Black and brown students anywhere.” While that may be true now, on Aug. 1 and Aug. 4, 2020, when Mr. Gavin’s stories were posted, he could not find anything on the District’s website that contradicted in any way the statements made by Dr. Green. Specifically, he did not find any document that listed the priorities that District 65 planned to use.
On March 4, 2021, Mr. Gavin asked Dr. Horton if the District had any documents posted on its website as of August 4, 2020 that stated what the priority groups would be to return to school. He also asked Dr. Horton, if there were such documents, to provide them to the RoundTable together withthe URL. Dr. Horton did not respond before the posting of this article.
Nothing in the articles misrepresented what District administrators said about the District’s policy to prioritize students at the time the articles were posted.
After an article appeared in Fox News, the District appears to have changed course and decided that it would not give a priority based on race, but on other factors. At a School Board meeting on Aug. 10, Dr. Horton said, “I just want to be clear that we are prioritizing in our design, our students who are free, reduced lunch, special education, emerging bilingual, McKinney Vento [homeless children] and any student who struggled during our spring learning. I’m hoping that that’s clear. And it just happens to be that the majority of our students are who are in free, reduced [fee] lunch are Black and Brown. And so that is the position we want to just share. It’s really about providing that support for them for our in-person return with guidance through ISBE [Illinois State Board of Education].”
The RoundTable reported this change in policy in an article posted on Aug. 11 that is available here.
The RoundTable’s reporting on this issue was accurate. Dr. Horton’s claim that the RoundTable misrepresented what the District publicly said about the priorities it would use is unfounded.
Q & A to Dr. Green on July 29, 2020
Question: How will a school or the District figure out a safe in person learning plan if they don’t have room to accommodate all families. Who will get prioritized? If I choose in person learning do I risk taking a spot away from another family? Or worse, do I risk taking a spot away from a family of color, a family whose child has an IEP or 504 plan, or an essential workers family?”
Answer: Dr. Greene responded, “Fortunately, we did some brainstorming or idea generation through our compression processes. The team that focused on Scenario C generated ideas for this exact purpose and reason. One, we wanted to adhere to the guidance from ISBE in relation to prioritize groups. But we also wanted to make sure that we are adhering to and speaking truth to power on our commitment to equity. And so for that reason, the team was charged with answering and generating ideas for: if schools open for some students with significant safety, hygiene and social distancing, how might we go about deciding which students are prioritizes to safely reenter, who would be prioritized. The list that was generated, I believe, held true to the values that our community values.
“Students receiving free or reduced lunch, Black and Brown students, students who received an I [incomplete] or less than 50% on their report cards, emerging bilinguals, students with IEP s. There are also other categories in relation to students who are not performing according to reading or math grade level expectations, and students with no comorbidity factors. Please know that those ideas are not in vain. And additional data and information is helping us to determine how we can go about servicing as many of our students as fast as possible. But thankfully, we do have information that was jointly developed across our community in terms of who those prioritized students would be.”
Q & A to Dr. Horton on July 29
Question: “Will the District guarantee that there will be a spot for in person learning for every child who wants it without diminishing the current four days full time schedule?”
Answer: Dr. Horton said, “The answer to that is no. We cannot guarantee that. One of the top priorities for us, period, is health and safety for all. So our students and also our staff, we have received quite a bit of information regarding our staff ability to return to work for various reasons about the safety of themselves and family members at home.
“So what we’re doing, as Dr. Green spoke about earlier, we are actually going to be targeting with our numbers currently, unless something changed, we’ll be targeting our dependent learners. Those are students that are marginalized, first, as far as how we will serve them. And I want to make sure that I say this. This is what – we are in a pandemic. And we also know that everyone is affected by this differently. But there was a, there was a pandemic before this. That was inequity and racism, and classism and all of these other things. And so I just want to make sure that as we’re making a decision – no decision is going to make everyone happy – we understand that. We’re trying to support every single child to the best of our ability, and we can’t allow a political cash train to take over our decision-making regarding how we return our students to school. We have to make sure that students who’ve been who’ve been oppressed, that we don’t continue to oppress them and we give them opportunity. We also want to be sure that there’s no lack of oversight in support of how we do the structure.
“This is why we’ve taken a lot of time to plan it. We don’t want this to be something that’s, that’s not put together with the highest quality. And we have been intentional about partnering with our unions, talking about our parents, our community partners, our board members, so we wanted to have that. And the last thing, I want to be clear, I don’t want to leave this left for interpretation, that if we had the staff that allowed in the space to bring back as many families who choose to send their children back to our District, we would definitely do that. But we also know that that is, the reality is that we have staff members, we have families who are not comfortable and not ready in our space – it’s limited to some degree.
“So we’re going to prioritize certain populations of students first, and I feel safe to say that in this community of Evanston. This is what I’ve seen, and I’ve heard for quite some time that this is a community that’s about equity for Black and Brown students, for special education students, for LGBTQ students. We know that this is important work, and we’re going to prioritize that.”