Maria Barroso, president of the Evanston/Skokie District 65 Educators’ Council (DEC), 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. 

School District 65 Evanston/Skokie logo

The following day, District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton announced that all District 65 schools will be canceled Monday and Tuesday, November 22 and 23, due to a lack of available staff and substitute teachers. The 2021-2022 school year will be lengthened by two days because of the cancellations, he wrote in an email to District 65 parents.

In his Friday email, Horton acknowledged that “this news will be difficult and may put working families in a bind.” In order to find services for families, Horton added, the district attempted to connect with community partners and childcare providers, but these efforts failed, due to staff shortages and other concerns expressed by these organizations. 

Even with substitutes stepping in, Horton wrote that the district wouldn’t have nearly enough coverage and would therefore not be able to operate the schools safely. “This decision was made both in the interest of safety and the mental health of our team,” Horton’s email read.

In her email to teachers, Barroso stated that several factors, including an increase in COVID-19 cases, were causing stress and affecting union members’ mental health. Teachers who need “a day to just breathe” should call in sick, she wrote. 

“If you are having a difficult time and are feeling overwhelmed, please take a sick day or two next week,” Barroso wrote. “You are human and need to take care of yourself.” 

Barroso added in her email that there is a substitute teacher crisis, and that teachers should make sure their Seesaw or Google Classroom is set up, in case the District decided to go remote. “If there are not enough subs, the district will have to make the decision about next week,” she wrote.

Barroso asked union members to put in their sick days as soon as possible to give the administration time to plan. She stressed this again in a brief follow-up email sent Friday. 

“Taking a day off is a good thing,” Barroso wrote, concluding her initial email. 

Barroso and Horton did not respond to multiple requests for comment from the RoundTable.

This year, District 65 has had some difficulty securing substitute teachers, particularly due to the pandemic, according to District 65’s Director of Communications Melissa Messinger. 

The district used to have the capacity to replace 85% of staff absences with substitutes before the pandemic. Over the last few weeks, according to Messinger, 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%.

“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,” Messinger told the RoundTable. 

With some parents also wondering why the district cancelled school entirely instead of moving online for Monday and Tuesday, Messinger also added that the substitute fill rate was low enough that both in-person and remote learning were not viable options this week.

Molly Curley, the parent of Nichols Middle School and Orrington Elementary School students, used to live in Chicago, where she said public schools usually at least had some place where kids could go if school got cancelled, like a public library, for example.

“My concerns are the kids being so far behind, and losing more time in school, and for those families who can’t stay home an extra two days, what that does to their households,” Curley said. “It just surprises me that the district doesn’t have somewhere, that’s not obviously going to house all of the students in District 65, but for some of them who just don’t have the option of staying home, that there’s not some kind of guidance that ‘This is a place that will be open for your children.’” 

Curley also added that at this point, the district needs to go directly to teachers and ask what support they need so a surprise last-minute cancellation like this doesn’t happen again.

All District 65 families were able to pick up several days worth of meals at Chute, Haven and Nichols on Monday, November 22, between 8:30 and 10:30 a.m., according to Horton.

Adina Keeling is a photojournalist and reporter, covering city news, sustainability, schools, and art. She also investigates mental health systems and environmental injustices in Evanston, and puts together...

9 replies on “Teachers union president encouraged teachers to call in sick, then District 65 cancels school due to lack of staff”

  1. Many of these comments assume that many teachers called in sick after the comments from Ms. Borrasso but we don’t even know the number. Let’s wait to find out the number and then comment. Hopefully the Roundtable will get us this info.
    I do find Ms. Borrasso’s comments wreckless- she knows the possible repercussions of her statement. And from statements made before the last Board elections, the teachers union supported the re-election of board members up for re-election.
    I also feel the Board isnt focusing on their job, and instead is focusing on TIFs, working on the proper phrasing of a 3 minute opening statement of remembrance before all Board meetings, etc. and has taken their attention off the main task: to help our kids get the best education and, in particular, to bring up the test scores of Black and Hispanic kids. Superintendant Horton has shown that he’ll make enflaming statements (“follows white supremacist theory”) and lie (“i never said black and brown kids get priority”) and not ever fully apologize.
    Its quite a disquieting situation. For now the hope lies in our teachers doing their job well and the administration giving them the needed support. The adult population of Evanston is always here to help: how about having tutoring help clinics daily after school? Will the District reach out to this great available resource?
    Teachers need to speak out to their union leadership when wrongful statements are made. And if test scores dont improve for minority students within a few years then this Board and Superintendant will need to go, sooner if the inappropriate and hurtful comments and lies continue.

  2. Actions speak louder than words. If they cared about the children, they wouldn’t have done this. I’m sure this is among the reasons private school enrollment is up considerably in Evanston.

    31.5% of D65 professional staff are paid over $100,000 per year with gold plated benefits that private sector employees don’t have–let alone the incredible pension they receive.

    Here is a link to D65 professional salaries:

  3. I have empathy with the school teachers in D65. Too much money is being allocated to high cost consultants and expensive high level administrative employees and not enough on the front line. Just one example; Equity initiatives, such as restorative justice initiatives, are poorly implemented and result in a lowering of standards, and, in some cases, a wholesale loss of order (ask anyone at Haven in the faculty or pupil population about the anarchy there).
    That being said, I feel Ms Barroso’s actions underestimate the stress and trauma that her actions have caused the parent and student community. She owes us an apology in my opinion. We are all suffering from mental health stress…does she think that teachers (who were given extra days off already this year) are any different from the other occupations that the D65 parents have, including front line healthcare workers, first responders and other essential workers? Yet, she feels justified in encouraging teachers to take two extra days off at short notice with the words ‘taking a day off is a good thing’. How utterly selfish when there is a holiday coming up giving everyone a chance to re-charge their emotional batteries.
    When did the D65 community devolve the power to end school classes, in such an arbitrary way, to a Union Rep who teaches 4th grade at Dewey Elementary School? Why does she get decide? Should the community take that power back and give it to the hard working parents and students of D65? This is my opinion. I remain open to debate and welcome your thoughts.

    1. I agree with every single word, John McWhorter. I just hope the D65 admin and the Union are reading these comments. Sadly, if they paid attention to the community voices at all, we would not currently be in this situation. Once again, the children and families of D65 are stuck in the middle of a power play. The winner? No one. The losers? All the kids missing much needed school time.

  4. Once again, it’s teachers versus the administration and the losers are the children, parents, and community. The school board needs to step up and focus on running a school district instead of wasting resources fighting with the city over a TIF, overhauling the curriculum, and getting into spats with teachers. Most of the board was elected with a razor thin plurality last time and I look forward to voting them out next cycle.

    If the teachers think that Dr. Horton is mis-administering the district, they should just come out and say it instead of pulling stunts like this and dinging the parents. For a district that cares a lot about “equity” – this really gave the shaft to all those parents working hourly shifts.

  5. So, the other shoe is dropping finally. Good.
    What I know that many of you may not know is that you will probably be facing something similar in elder care, in child care, in food service, home cleaning, landscaping – all the jobs you depend on to be able to go to work that are comprised of people who need to seek out social services just to stay fed and housed.
    Am I angry? Yes, I’m angry. I’m angry that I was blind to it until Trump got into power. I’m angry that so many people still don’t seem to see it.
    I am totally OK if the teacher’s union told teachers to walk out, and I don’t think it matters how. We have been asking our schools to do more with less for many years now. Some of that, IMO, could be addressed if our community didn’t ask for so much beyond the core curriculum – but some of it is that we have been getting more than what we’ve been paying for as a community. Same goes for nursing homes, grocery stores, restaurants, etc. etc. etc.
    I, personally, am tired of having to find help for school district staff (admittedly, not teachers – but I would guess they wouldn’t ask me) to pay for basic necessities. I’m also tired of advocating for special needs kids whose needs aren’t met because the District has learned that one way to address the budget is to game systems for kids whose voice isn’t heard by the general public. And I’m tired of seeing exhausted teachers who have to deal with the fallout of the District budget serving the loudest and not the neediest.
    This is bigger than the school district, and I think everyone needs to prepare to either start ensuring that everyone who works for or with them has a living wage, or to start learning to care for their kids, elders, and homes by themselves.

  6. I believe this action by teachers is a cry and a wake-up call for the administration and school board.
    Working conditions are stressful and sometimes unsafe. There is a lack of adequate staff and substitutes on a daily basis in some schools.
    Instead of providing extra support to teachers and staff, administration is piling on more paperwork. Instead of recognizing the emotional and physical toll the pandemic has had on students and staff, the administration is expecting schools to be back to “normal”. It’s past time for teachers to actually be asked what they need and then listening to.
    Finally, a decent salary for paraprofessionals and a competitive daily rate for substitutes will keep qualified and caring people from leaving our schools.
    It’s time to support the dedicated people who are caring for and educating the children of Evanston.

    1. Yes, a decent salary for paraprofessionals as well as a competitive rate for substitute teachers will help to secure qualified supports for Evanston schools. The lack of subs causes much stress and creates inconsistency in academic routines for students. This is because staff end up being pulled from their work (ie: an intervention teacher, an assistant principal, etc) to teach when a sub cannot be found. This is disruptive for a school and It happens way too often in Evanston. Also, it is true that we teachers are trying our best to address the many and varied needs of students post-quarantine. These are academic needs as well as social emotional needs. We are not sponging off the Evanston taxpayers, as a previous comment insinuates. We are working harder than ever because we know that students’ needs are greater than ever.

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