Updated March 19 The Centers for Disease Controls changed its social-distancing guidelines for high schools on March 19 from six feet to three feet. District 202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon said ETHS will continue with the six-foot social distance when it opens in April for hybrid learning.

For the past few months Evanston Township High School officials have been saying that when students return, the inside of the building will look very different. One-way staircases and hand-sanitizer stations in the common areas and socially distanced chairs and plastic shields in the classrooms may be some of the more noticeable changes. Less visible are such things as the thorough routine sanitizing and new air filters.

At the March 8 School Board meeting, ETHS administrators previewed how they envision hybrid learning. In the COVID-19 era, the three Ws have replaced the three Rs of a century ago: “Wear a mask, wash your hands and watch your distance.” Although the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Department of Public Health recently reduced their social-distancing recommendation from six feet to three feet, ETHS plans to stay with the Centers for Disease Control’s six-foot guideline.

Before heading to school, students will log on to myETHS to complete the pre-screening questions and the COVID self-certification screening. Students should be sure their devices are fully charged and pack all the supplies, including water, they will need for the day, since lockers will not be available. Arrival time is no earlier than 15 minutes before the scheduled time.  

Students will choose the entrance zone closest to their assigned activities and leave by the most convenient exit.

Class periods have been reduced from 70 to 65 minutes, to accommodate a break and travel time. Lunch will be available as “grab-and-go” – not to be eaten in the building.

Pete Bavis, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, offered a “walk-through” of the day.

“We know students who will be here for the first two periods of the day will need to travel home so that they can complete their day remotely. Conversely, we know we’ll have students who are remote first and second period, and they will have to travel in. So that’s why we’ve adjusted for a one-hour travel period in the middle of our day.

“That was a conscious decision, because we did not want to have students eating with their masks off in our cafeterias, because we know that is an extraordinarily high risk behavior.

“You will see that we were also able to keep our office hours and teacher collaboration hours on Wednesdays and Fridays. So that’s the general schedule.

The question always is, ‘What does that look like for a student? Let’s take a look. So I’m going to walk you through what it looked like if your student was in Cohort A, a student in Cohort A will go to class on Tuesday for periods one and two in-person. Then they will travel home and they will complete their day periods three through five remote.

“On Wednesdays if a student in Cohort A this week had Early Bird, that would be period zero. They would attend periods six and seven in the morning. And then they would transition home where they would complete their day remotely in periods eight, and nine. On Thursday, they will switch, meaning that their A.M.s will be done remotely.

“So on Thursday if the student will complete periods one and two remotely, and then come in for periods three, four and five, for in person instruction on Friday, just continuing along the schedule, they will be home for periods six and seven, learning remotely.

“In periods eight and nine, they will come into school and they will take those classes in person. So as you see throughout that week, they will cycle through their nine period day. And then the following week, they will be fully remote. And then we will see Cohorts C and D, for example, in this example, coming into the school.”

About 46% of ETHS families have chosen hybrid learning, which is scheduled to begin in April. Most of the families who have opted for hybrid learning are white, so another difference will be the lack of diversity in the building.

Superintendent Eric Witherspoon said he was glad not to be opening the school until April because more people would have the opportunity to be vaccinated.

Asked whether ETHS would allow more students in the building or make any other adjustments in light of the recently relaxed social-distancing guideline for schools, Dr. Witherspoon responded, “We are adhering to our hybrid plan, which is based on six feet. Every school is different and has different size classrooms and different total enrollments.

“We will follow our plan for the remaining weeks of the school year. By implementing our plan for the remaining weeks of the school year, we will be able to learn a great deal more, such as the effectiveness and safety of our mitigation requirements that we will be implementing. Our learning in April and May will inform future decisions.”

Again on March 19, the RoundTable asked if the new CDC guideline of only a three-foot social distance for high schools would be implemented at ETHS. Dr. Witherspoon said, ” We are definitely paying close attention to the CDC information, but we still need an opportunity to implement our plan based on 6’ to make sure that we have a full understanding of how effectively and safely we can implement our hybrid plan in this school. The virus is still here and there are still many unknowns, such as what conditions may occur after spring break.  That learning about our own school will be vitally important for making future decisions.”

Mary Gavin

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...