District 65 to start the school year with remote learning; hybrid learning could start as soon as Sept. 29


File illustration by Carly Schulman

Evanston/Skokie District 65 tentatively plans to reopen in the fall with all remote learning.

Sneha Dey, Summer Managing Editor

Evanston/Skokie School District 65 will start the school year with entirely remote classes, but aims to open school buildings part-time by the end of September, according to a special D65 board meeting Wednesday.

Families can opt into a hybrid of in-person and remote classes, or all remote classes. Students who opt into in-person classes will be in school buildings four days a week. All students will participate in remote instruction on Mondays.

Students will eat breakfast and lunch in the classrooms. The district has planned for meals to be individually plated and utensils to be individually packaged, Raphael Obafemi, the district’s chief financial and operations officer, said.

In order to accommodate the nearly 2,500 students who depend on buses to get to school, the district has anticipated a need for more buses and bus drivers. That could amount to the largest coronavirus-related expense, Obafemi said. Those who ride the bus will need to self-certify and participate in a health prescreening. The district also plans to assign bus aides to supervise assigned seating.

The district will take significant measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19: increased cleaning and disinfecting, face covering at all times, health assessments and isolation rooms. High-touch areas, such as door handles, water fountains, chairs and tables, will be cleaned more frequently.

Students who opt into remote learning will receive both asynchronous and synchronous learning, as well as feedback on student work and small group support. An academic hotline will be available for students in kindergarten through eighth grade, according to Stacy Beardsley, the interim executive director of curriculum and instruction.

“A core tenant… is that students will experience and achieve the same outcome learning outcomes regardless of whether they are learning remote or on-site,” Beardsley said.

Students with disabilities, as well as emergent bilinguals, will be prioritized for in-person instruction. Romy DeCristofaro, the executive director for special services, suggested the district may conduct home visits for both groups, with proper safety conditions in place. For emergent bilinguals, educators will organize opportunities for interactive dialogue with native English-speaking peers and adults.

The district has plans to integrate social and emotional learning into instruction, DeCristofaro said. Students of all grades will participate in daily check-ins. Educators will receive professional training on trauma-informed practices, DeCristofaro said. The district will also create healing spaces and self-care spaces for educators.

The district plans to provide accommodations for staff members who are at risk, or have family members at risk for COVID-19. For educators cannot work in-person, the district will assign entirely remote work schedules, according to Devon Horton, the district superintendent.

Horton said the district will prioritize communication with families, as plans develop and as students begin classes in August.

Currently, the framework tentatively asks families to notify the district of their choice of their intended learning pathway by July 31. But D65 board member Suni Kartha said the district needs to give families more time. Kartha recommended the district hold a town hall allowing families to ask questions before making a choice.

In developing the reopening framework, the district considered five potential scenarios: opening with no contact limiting, opening with significant safety protocols, partial reopening, all remote learning and implementing a new calendar.

“We are making the least bad decision. There are no good decisions,” Kartha said. “All we can do is try as much as possible to reduce harm. But we know there is harm. We’re all experiencing some trauma.”

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