D65 officials answer questions about reopening plans, online learning


Daily file photo by Patrick Svitek

The Evanston/Skokie District 65 Education Center, at 1500 McDaniel Avenue.

Jacob Fulton, Reporter

As families prepare for some in-person instruction in Evanston/Skokie School District 65, district officials discussed details for the upcoming school year in a Wednesday meeting.

The district is set to begin the year with entirely remote classes, and plans to transition to some in-person classes beginning on Sept. 29. Parents will need to inform the district of whether they intend for their student to participate in online or in-person learning by Friday. Superintendent Devon Horton said the district will approach the eventual transition process in an intentional and careful manner.

“There’s no roadmap for what we’re going to face,” Horton said. “We’re all facing tough decisions, and what doesn’t feel like good options, but understand me — we can make a lot of right decisions, but we definitely don’t want to make the wrong one.”

Horton said the district will continue to evaluate the feasibility of in-person education as the planned start date approaches, looking at the level of positive COVID-19 tests in Evanston as a potential safety indicator.

Though some parents have expressed concern over the two month gap between the decision deadline and the start of in-person learning, LaTarsha Green, the district’s executive director of black student success, said the district needs advanced notice to plan appropriately.

“(July 31) is a challenging deadline, but it has some technical implications for us as a district — one being how we roster students,” Green said. “This will help us determine placement of teachers and assignment of teachers and staff. It’ll also have implications for rostering students for technological resources.”

However, Green said families can switch from in-person to remote learning at any time, and the change would only take a few days to go into effect. Conversely, students who opt into remote learning can only move to in-person learning with two weeks of advance notice, she said. The change would go into effect between trimesters.

Additionally, Romy DeCristofaro, District 65’s executive director for special services, said the district will continue to provide services for individualized education programs and English language learners both remotely and in-person. DeCristofaro said these specialized programs aim to improve on issues faced in the spring, including lower levels of instruction for students with IEPs.

Stacy Beardsley, the interim executive director of curriculum and instruction, said there may be some differences between in-person and remote learning, but the district will work to standardize teaching as much as possible.

“We want to give educators flexibility to be respondent to student needs while still holding on to pacing,” Beardsley said. “Classrooms may not be in the exact same place day in and day out, but at key markers through the year, they will be asked to be at the same place.”

Beardsley also said the district is putting an increased emphasis on face-to-face instruction time for e-learning, and will require at least five hours of content per day for students. However, she said this time will incorporate activities away from screens. Students won’t be using technology for five hours each day, she added.

Additionally, Beardsley said educators won’t be able to keep students engaged for the entirety of each school day. As a result, students will require some level of parental support as they participate in remote learning.

“Remote learning may work well for some children, but it does not meet the needs, in some cases, of all of our learners,” Beardsley said. “Our current plan is to provide choice and to provide the best learning environment to meet the needs of our families and our students and our educators.”

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