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Students leaving King Arts School in fall 2021. (Photo by Bessie Mbadugha)

For the week ending Jan. 14, Evanston/Skokie School District 65 and Evanston Township High School District 202 reported a combined 593 new positive cases of COVID-19 among students. That number represents about 5.5% of the 10,802 total students enrolled across both districts.

ETHS alone registered 311 new student positives during the week, while District 65 saw 288 students test positive over the same period. One hundred and five staff members also tested positive between the two districts.

While transmission of the virus is high across the entire city, the worst outbreaks in District 65 are currently concentrated at Chute and Haven Middle Schools and Oakton, Walker, Washington and Willard Elementary Schools. District 65 started second semester classes with a remote learning day on Jan. 10 but all buildings reopened for in-person instruction Jan. 11. ETHS students returned to the classroom on Jan. 10 for the first time since Dec. 16, when the district announced an “adaptive pause” to in-person learning due to COVID-19 case rates.

With increased virus transmission in Evanston, ETHS also started mandatory weekly testing for all students, regardless of vaccination status, on Jan. 11. District 65 has tested all students once a week since the start of the academic year in September 2021. Parents of students in each district had to complete an opt-out form to exempt any of their children from the weekly testing protocol.

In early January, ETHS and District 65 also both adopted new guidance from the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention that shortened mandatory quarantines for students who test positive or who are not fully vaccinated and exposed to someone with a confirmed positive case of COVID-19. Under the new guidelines, students who get sick with the virus can return to the classroom after five days of isolation instead of 10, provided they have no symptoms and no fever after five days.

Despite the record number of new cases among students, both districts have said they remain committed to continuing in-person instruction as planned, in accordance with safety recommendations from the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Evanston Health and Human Services Department.

“These coming weeks will inevitably be hard as omicron continues to surge and as health guidance rapidly evolves,” District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton wrote in a Jan. 7 message to students and families. “We remain committed to maximizing safety within our schools and to continue offering in-person learning, as directed by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). This being said, we must be prepared to adapt to and implement updated guidance and to potentially enter into Adaptive Pauses as health conditions warrant.”

Meanwhile, Evanston as a whole has consistently reported record highs in daily new COVID-19 cases over the last several weeks. The city saw a record 273 new cases on Thursday, Jan. 13 and another 134 cases on Friday, Jan. 14. The rolling seven-day average of daily new positives now stands at 121.

Nonetheless, many parents and community members strongly believe that shutting down in-person school buildings amid the omicron wave will ultimately do more harm than good, especially with a large percentage of students and teachers vaccinated and/or boosted against COVID-19.

“Everybody is different. It’s going to affect everybody in a different way, and I think that we have to have a little faith in science,” Evanston resident and ETHS parent Angelique Ketzback told the RoundTable. “We have to have a little faith in vaccines, and I think that this [K-12 school] age group, I don’t think are at a high risk.” 

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...

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  1. In November Northwestern University had over 1000 cases mostly undergraduates in Evanston. This is never reported when discussing Evanston. Yet NU students live and sometimes work in Evanston. Why is that?