On Tuesday, Evanston Township High School announced that Friday, November 12 would be an online, asynchronous learning day, with before-school activities, field trips and meal service canceled for the day. After-school activities went on as scheduled. 

The ETHS announcement about the change in plans stated that “this decision is aligned with the district’s wellbeing efforts for students and staff.” According to sources in the building, a perfect storm of circumstances created the need for transitioning Friday into an e-learning day. 

Those circumstances included a higher-than-usual number of planned staff absences due to the Veterans Day holiday on Thursday, giving employees a chance to take a four-day weekend. But an online learning day also gives teachers and students a chance to slow down and take care of themselves during a particularly stressful year. Between COVID-19 protocols and other unusual circumstances, educators across the country have a lot more to worry about than they did before the pandemic. 

“ETHS teachers have faced many challenges these last few years, including dealing with COVID concerns, but also teaching in an entirely new format, block scheduling, this year after pivoting to remote learning last year,” said Rick Cardis, an ETHS history teacher and the President of the District 202 teachers union. “We’re in our third year in a row of effectively meeting new circumstances in our classrooms.”

The New York Times reported Thursday that schools across the country are dealing with similar challenges. All public schools in Seattle, for example, are closed Friday with too many staff members taking the day off and not enough substitutes available. Between the unique challenges of teaching in a pandemic and the fatigue from political divisiveness, “it all takes a toll,” Cardis said. 

Cardis also emphasized that Friday was still a workday for ETHS students and staff, albeit a virtual one.

“We also need to understand why teachers needed a break from the normal routine today. And it is not a day off of school,” Cardis told the RoundTable. “I have spent several hours at my computer yesterday and today preparing for today and responding to student needs.” 

Duncan Agnew

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...