On July 22, School District 65 announced that it plans to reopen the schools for in-person instruction on Sept. 29, assuming it is safe to do so. At that time, the District provided general guidance on the safety precautions it plans to take, and it provided additional details in a report, “Reimagining Education, A Guide to the 2020-2021 School Year,” which it posted the next day. The District provided still more information in a 90-minute online town hall session at which administrators provided answers to pre-submitted questions on July 29.

Under the return to school plan, all students will begin the school year on Aug. 27 with remote learning, which will continue for all students through at least Sept. 28.

An in-person option is scheduled to begin on Sept. 29, if it is safe to do so.

If conditions permit, in-person learning will take place Tuesdays through Fridays. Mondays will be a remote learning day for all students. This will allow deep cleaning of the school buildings and continued professional learning, says the Reimagining Education report.

Parents are required to choose by Aug. 5 whether their children would be in the remote learning path or in the in-person learning path (sometimes referred to as on-site learning). If more students chose in-person learning than the District can accommodate, the District plans to give a priority to certain groups of students.

The spaces available for in-person learning will be limited by the capacity of the buildings, the availability of teachers, and possibly the availability of bus transportation.

Learning Spaces

Together with its architects, the District determined the capacity of each of the District’s buildings to serve students, taking into account guidelines provided by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH).

The analysis assumed “we would use 60% of total square footage of building spaces and assume[d] that each student needs 36 square feet of space to be 6 feet apart,” says the report.

Superintendent Devon Horton said a “Let’s Get it Right Team” will make sure that every classroom is clearly marked with the maximum number of persons (including students, teachers and aides) that are allowed in the classroom in accordance with applicable guidelines.

To maximize space, only furniture needed for instructional purposes will kept in the classrooms.

In addition, “to maximize the number of students who can return for in-person learning, the District could create non-traditional instructional spaces using gymnasiums, cafeterias, libraries, and other common spaces,” says the report.   

Seating within each classroom will conform with ISBE/IDPH guidelines, with all tables and desks spaced at least six feet apart and facing in the same direction.

Efforts will be made to reduce the sharing of instructional materials, classroom materials, and technology among students. If materials must be shared, procedures will be established to ensure cleaning and sanitizing.

Hand sanitizer will be available at all times in learning spaces, and students will be required to wash their hands before entering.

No more than 50 individuals will be allowed in any indoor space at a given time.

Keeping Students in the Same Classroom

Stacy Beardsley, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, said every student will be assigned to a cohort, which will be assigned the “same set of teachers.” She said, “The teachers will move from one class section to the next to teach that smaller cohort.”

She explained, “So previously, in middle school, [students] might have walked from the first floor to the third floor to the second floor, and been in class with upwards of 100 different kids or 150 kids in a day. In this situation, we're actually down to groups, somewhere between 36 and 48.

“The current plan is that the educators would move to the kids in the classrooms to minimize movement. And movement outside for breaks and for PE will be at times when we're limiting hallway traffic. So we really are trying to pay attention to safety first and eliminating contact and exposure.”

Hallways, Restrooms, and Lockers

School staff will monitor hallways and limit the number of students in hallways at one time. Whenever possible, hallway traffic will flow in one direction. Markers will be placed throughout the hallways to help students and staff adhere to social distancing guidelines.

“To the greatest extent possible, lockers will not be used at all,” said Andalib Khelghati, Assistant Superintendent of Schools. If there is a point where lockers need to be used, they will not be shared, and procedures must be in place to ensure social distancing between students when they are being used.

Restroom procedures will be established and limit the number of students within restrooms at one time. Plastic barriers will be put between sinks and between urinals.

Face Coverings

In accordance with ISBE guidelines, face coverings must be worn by students, staff, and visitors at all times when they are inside a District 65 building and when they are on a school bus.

There are exceptions for children under the age of 2; for people with a medical condition (verified by a medical professional) that prohibits them from wearing a face covering; for people having difficulty breathing; and for people unable to remove the face covering without assistance. 

Accommodations will be made for students who cannot wear face coverings due to medical conditions. These may include a face shield for the student (if they can wear one), a plexiglas barrier or study carrel, and additional PPE for the teacher (e.g. gown/scrub/mask and face shield). 

District 65 will supply disposable face coverings to any students, staff, or visitors who do not have one.

Arrival in the Morning

Specific arrival and dismissal procedures will be established by each school. The arrival and dismissal times may be staggered to prevent lines from building up at the entry and exit points and to limit contagion.

Before students may enter a building their temperature will be checked by thermal imaging scanners or handheld devices. If their temperature is greater than 100.4, they will not be allowed to enter the building. Students will also be screened for symptoms of COVID-19.

Dr. Khelghati said administrators have done some field testing at the schools in an effort “to avoid a situation where we see long lines of students waiting to get temperature testing before they enter the building.

“More than likely, most schools will have one to two entry points,” he said.

“One would be where students who were walking to the school would enter and would have their temperature taken.”

Students arriving by car would have their temperature taken while they are still in the car, so if they have a temperature, a responsible adult can take them home before they even get out of the car and enter the school.

Students arriving by bus would have their temperature checked by an aide prior to boarding the bus.

If a student arrives at a school building with a temperature, they will be taken to an isolation room, under the supervision of a staff member, until they can be picked up.

School staff and visitors must also undergo a temperature check and they must fill out a Self-Certification Form that asks about COVID-19 symptoms, travel, and COVID-19 exposure. Any person who answers ‘yes’ to any of the questions on the form will not be allowed in the building.

When Someone is Sick or Has COVID-19

Any student or staff member who shows symptoms of illness or shows COVID-19-related symptoms or who tests positive for COVID-19 must remain home and should not return for in-person instruction for 10 days after the symptoms first appeared and meet other criteria before returning to school, says the report.

If any students or staff member starts to exhibit a fever or COVID-19 symptoms while at school, they must report to the health office. Isolated waiting rooms have been identified in all school buildings for individuals demonstrating COVID-19 like symptoms until they can be picked up from school. Any student who must be isolated will be supervised by a school staff member at all times.

The District’s plan sets out procedures to follow in the event a person within a District 65 building tests positive for COVID-19. These include possibly suspending a class for a period of time, closing a building for a period of time, and cancelling events.

School Libraries

“We are still assessing whether we will reopen our libraries for book distribution in the fall,” said Dr. Beardsley. “We are expanding our digital book resources so that students will have access to the digital book resources at a minimum.”

“Libraries will be used on a limited and as-needed basis,” says the report. “Library instruction will occur but may look differently than previous school years.”

Physical Education

Physical education will be held outdoors as much as possible and as long as the weather allows. Shared equipment will not be used. Any individual equipment will be sanitized between uses.

Face coverings may be removed if PE classes are held outside and students are able to maintain at least six feet of distance between each other at all times.

“We anticipate middle school locker rooms will be closed. Students will not change into PE uniforms,” says the report.

School Meals

All students will eat lunch in their classrooms; students will have time to wash their hands before eating. Students will be allowed to remove face coverings when eating or drinking.

All meals will be pre-packaged or handled by staff. There will be no buffets or sharing of utensils.

Accommodations will be made to help ensure the safety of children with food allergies.

Recess

Recess will continue to be held outdoors as long as weather permits.

If six feet of distance can be maintained at all times, face coverings are not required outdoors. Use of playground equipment will be in accordance with Evanston Health and Human Services guidelines.

Cleaning and Ventilation

Dr. Khelghati said, “We have developed very tight cleaning guidelines in line with the CDC protocols that we plan to follow. Our plan is that there will be periodic cleaning throughout the day of high-touch areas such as doors, railings, light switches.

He said the District has hired additional staff to prepare the buildings this summer, and they hope to keep them after school starts to with the support needed for our schools.

When asked about ventilation, Dr. Khelghati said the District’s maintenance team is following the guidelines of CDC and the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning. He said the District is upgrading all the filters to the higher level, and “where necessary, we are going to plan to partner with HVAC consulting firms with long standing knowledge about our facilities.”

Bus Transportation

Raphael Obafemi, the District’s Chief Financial Officer, said about 2,500 students have historically taken the bus to school. The transportation process is going to look different than it did before the pandemic, he said. One thing the District will do is limit the number of students who take the same bus.

An aide on each bus will conduct temperature checks of each student before allowing them on the bus. Bus drivers, aides and students must wear a face covering, and hand sanitizer will be available.

Students will be encouraged to load the bus from back to front and unload from front to back. Whenever possible, students should sit one per seat. Family members or those living within the same household may sit together. Buses will be cleaned and sanitized after each route.

It is anticipated that buses will not have the capacity to transport the same number of students as they did before the pandemic. Since it may not be possible to procure additional buses for students who opt to take in-person instruction, Dr. Horton said he is reaching out to community partners to set up locations in the Fifth and Second Wards to host in-person instruction to students who reside there. He said the District is working with the City of Evanston, Northwestern University, McGaw YMCA, Family Focus, and other organizations.

Many of “our most marginalized students,” Dr. Horton said, are bused from the Fifth Ward, so providing a location for in-person instruction in that ward would provide them schooling in their neighborhood and at the same time minimize their exposure to COVID on the bus, he said.

“This is a full, full blown community effort for us to pull this off.”

Priority for In-Class Learning

Under applicable guidelines, the District said the maximum number of students allowed in each building are as follows: JEH 172; Chute 466, Dawes 354, Dewey 359, Haven 556, King Arts 388, Kingsley  275, Lincoln 486, Lincolnwood 291, Nichols 418, Oakton 335, Orrington 303, Park 181, Bessie Rhodes 343, Walker 276, Washington 416, and Willard 297.

Historically, the enrollment at each school significantly exceeds these numbers.

The second factor that may impact enrollment in on-site learning is the number of teachers who are willing to teach on site, due to concerns about being infected by COVID-19. Some teachers may have a concern based on their own risk factors or of people in their household. At this point it appears that the District is honoring teachers’ decisions on whether to teach on-site or not.

Dr. Horton said the District is not setting teachers up to say, “You must come back.”

Latarsha Green, Deputy Superintendent, said that one of the District’s task forces considered what the District should do in the event more students applied to take on-site learning than there were available slots. She said the task force and administrators decided to give the following categories of students a priority: “students receiving free or reduced lunch, Black and Brown students, students who received an I [Incomplete] or less than 50% on their report cards, emerging bilinguals, and students with IEPs. There are also other categories in relation to students who are not performing according to reading or math grade-level expectations, and students with no comorbidity factors.”

Dr. Horton said in terms of prioritizing, “we'll be targeting our dependent learners. Those are students that are marginalized first, as far as how we will serve them.

“We are in a pandemic,” Dr. Horton continued. “And we also know that everyone is affected by this differently. But there was a pandemic before this. That was inequity and racism, and classism and all of these other things. And so I just want to make sure that as we're making a decision – no decision is going to make everyone happy – we understand that. We're trying to support every single child to the best of our ability, and we can't allow a political cash train to take over our decision-making regarding how we return our students to school. We have to make sure that students who've been oppressed, that we don't continue to oppress them and that we give them opportunity.

“I've heard for quite some time that this is a community that's about equity for Black and Brown students, for special education students, for LGBTQ students. We know that this is important work, and we're going to prioritize that.”

The Reimagining Education report contains many other guidelines and procedures relating to staff and visitors; providing services for students with an IEP or 504 plan and to emergent bilingual students, providing before and after-school childcare; curriculum nights, open houses, family nights, and other events; protocols in the event a student of staff member has COVID-19 or symptom; as well as address other issues.