Nichols Middle School Credit: District 65

The Midwest Middle School Debate League, which Evanston/Skokie District 65 middle schools participated in last year, has disbanded, according to Melissa Messinger, the district’s Executive Director of Communications.

As a result, district leaders will spend this year designing and building their own debate league for students to join starting in fall 2023, Messinger told the RoundTable on Friday.

“The District is committed to establishing a robust debate program for all interested sixth through eighth grade students, which will provide students with experiences designed to enhance their skills across debate formats, and culminate with opportunities for participation in the National Speech and Debate Tournament,” Messinger said in an email.

Noah Sheldon, a parent of a Nichols Middle School student who was part of the school’s debate team last year, said the program offered a unique social and academic outlet for students during a time of transition amid the COVID-19 pandemic. For his child, Sheldon said, the competitions were a chance to learn more about key issues and current events in the world.

Plus, he said, debate was a great way to meet new people, especially for students who are not necessarily involved in other extracurricular such as sports or band.

“The Nichols kids won quite a few awards. They did really, really well,” Sheldon said. “That was just awesome to see. And then the other thing is, through debate, our child met seventh graders, eighth graders, and it just did so much for their confidence. It was just a spectacular thing in all kinds of ways.”

Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Stacy Beardsley declined to comment on the nature of the league disbanding and plans for the future of debate in the district. She said District 65 supports debate, but the district simply does not have a viable option for competitions this year.

Sheldon said he was disappointed the district could not find a solution before the start of the new school year, noting how important opportunities for learning and socializing outside of school are for young people.

“I was just at this conference, and I met all these people there. And I mentioned that my kid was loving debate, and they were like ‘Oh, that changed my life.’ I met Lori Lightfoot there, and all these people,” Sheldon said. “And there’s no question that in that room alone, people would fund this program in two seconds flat.”

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...