Parents of children in Evanston/Skokie School District 65 were notified by email Friday afternoon that school will be canceled on Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week.
The letter from Superintendent Devon Horton blamed a shortage of staff and a lack of substitutes for the decision, and said that the 2021-2022 school year would have to be lengthened two days because of the cancellations.
According to District 65’s Director of Communications Melissa Messinger, the district typically used to have the capacity to replace 85% of staff absences with substitutes before the pandemic. Over the last few weeks, the fill rate has fallen to 60%, and with excused staff absences scheduled for this Monday and Tuesday, next week’s fill rate was just 21%.
“While all districts including ours are having difficulty securing subs, dealing with the consequences of the shortage are even more challenging in the pandemic,” Messinger told the RoundTable. “In the past, it may have been possible to combine classes or host large group activities. As we continue to prioritize the safety and health of our students and staff, these options are not currently on the table.”
Maria Barroso, president of the Evanston/Skokie District 65 Educators’ Council, sent an email to the union’s members Thursday, November 18, encouraging them to prioritize their mental health and take a sick day on Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week. The following day, District 65 sent Horton’s email announcing school would be canceled those days.
Here is the text of Horton’s letter:
Dear District 65 Community,
As we head into the weekend, I would like to provide as much notice as possible that it will be necessary to cancel school next week on Monday, November 22, and Tuesday, November 23. There will be no school for all PreK-8 grade students in District 65. Students and staff will return on Monday, November 29, following the Fall Break.
This decision was made both in the interest of safety and the mental health of our team. Based on numbers received today, we do not have adequate staffing or sub coverage to provide the necessary care or to support high-quality learning next week. We believe this is a result of educators and support staff needing to rest and focus on mental health and also to tend to their own families.
Even with the deployment of subs and staff from Central Office, we would not have nearly enough coverage nor could we operate safely under pandemic health guidelines. We recognize this news is difficult and may put working families in a bind. In an effort to support families, we proactively connected with our childcare providers and community partners to see if we could coordinate services. Unfortunately this is not feasible as they are also experiencing staffing shortages and expressed other concerns.
In addition, our Nutrition Services team is coordinating food distribution for students. Several days worth of meals will be available for pick up for all D65 students at Chute, Haven, and Nichols on Monday, November 22, from 8:30-10:30 a.m.
As a result of this decision, it will be necessary to extend the 21-22 school year by two instructional days. The last day of school for K-8 students will now be Wednesday, June 8, pending the use of any additional Emergency Days. The last day for JEH students will be June 6.
We know this is very difficult and we hope that our community can both respect and understand the unique circumstances of this situation and those we all continue to face. We know our staff, families, and students are all doing their best. Stress is causing burnout and people are juggling personal and professional responsibilities and a myriad of challenges catalyzed by the pandemic. As an organization, we must acknowledge this and support those directly responsible for the learning and care of our students and afford them this time and opportunity.
I hope that this notice will provide the opportunity for our staff and families to make the necessary arrangements. Thank you for your understanding and support.
Dr. Devon Horton