ETHS students perform in the theatre program’s production of YAMO last week. (RoundTable photo)

In a Thursday afternoon email to students and families, Evanston Township High School Superintendent Dr. Eric Witherspoon announced that the remaining school days before winter break, from Dec. 17 to Dec. 23, will be conducted remotely due to an ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 cases among students and staff. Classes will be asynchronous on Friday, Dec. 17 and synchronous from Monday, Dec. 20 through Thursday, Dec. 23.

Witherspoon described the shift to remote learning for the rest of the semester as an “adaptive pause” that “is intended to reduce the transmission of COVID while allowing students to continue instruction remotely with their teachers and during their regular schedules.”

During this period of online learning, all in-person afternoon activities, sports and club meetings will be canceled or postponed, as well. The school building will be open during normal hours on Friday, Dec. 17 for students to pick up any school supplies they may need for a successful week of remote learning.

According to Witherspoon’s message, ETHS will not distribute meals on Dec. 17, but meal distribution will take place at the school from 9 a.m. to noon Dec. 20-23.

This decision by ETHS to go fully remote also comes a day after the school canceled the remaining performances of YAMO scheduled for Thursday, Friday and Saturday of this week due to the outbreak of COVID-19 positives among students.

On Wednesday, Athletic Director Chris Livatino also announced the postponement of the girls and boys basketball games scheduled to take place at New Trier Thursday night. Livatino said ETHS made the decision “in compliance with COVID safety protocols.”

The theatre program no longer had enough healthy students to put on this weekend’s shows, ETHS Fine Arts Department Chair Nicholas Gehl said in a Wednesday afternoon email to students and families.

“Unfortunately, we will not be able to reschedule the performances as we have several more shows planned for the year and two more productions starting on Monday, January 10th,” Gehl wrote in the email, which was obtained by the RoundTable. “Additionally, we know many of our students will be starting new activities and commitments. There may be opportunities in the future for students to perform aspects of the show.”

YAMO, a musical sketch comedy revue created and performed by students, is an annual tradition that has been produced at ETHS for more than 60 years.

The announcement canceling the YAMO performances also came on the heels of a Tuesday evening email to ETHS students and families from Witherspoon with updates on the COVID-19 situation at the high school. 

According to that message, the school identified 53 positive cases of COVID-19 between Monday, Dec. 13 and Tuesday, Dec. 14 alone, although Witherspoon did not specify if that number included just students or students and staff who had tested positive. To put that case rate in perspective, a total of 52 ETHS students tested positive for the coronavirus from Aug. 16 through Dec. 10. 

“ETHS continues to consult with local and state health authorities. Based on current guidance, ETHS is not closing or ‘shutting down,’” Witherspoon said in his Tuesday evening email. “Classes and activities remain in-person; a remote learning option is not available at ETHS.” 

The superintendent also noted that ETHS had one “core group outbreak,” which constitutes either 10% positivity within a particular class/activity or at least three positive cases in a single sports team, activity or classroom. The core group outbreak was on a sports team at ETHS, Witherspoon said. 

The RoundTable contacted but could not immediately reach an ETHS spokesperson for comment on the current virus outbreak at the school. The next update on case numbers at the school is scheduled to be posted Friday, Dec. 17. 

This story will be updated with the latest ETHS COVID-19 information as it becomes available.

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...

One reply on “ETHS shuts down in-person learning amid COVID-19 outbreak”

  1. What a shame for these kids. YAMO was a formative experience for me when I went to ETHS. It must be so shocking for them to have it abruptly ended like this. It’s no surprise there is a mental health crisis among young people these days

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