District 65 hosts virtual forum to discuss hybrid learning model launch

The+Evanston%2F+Skokie+School+District+65+Education+Center%2C+at+1500+McDaniel+Avenue.+Evanston%2FSkokie+School+District+65+is+delaying+its+return+to+in-person+classes+from+Tuesday+to+Wednesday+due+to+extreme+weather+concerns.+%0A

Daily file photo by Patrick Svitek

The Evanston/ Skokie School District 65 Education Center, at 1500 McDaniel Avenue. Evanston/Skokie School District 65 is delaying its return to in-person classes from Tuesday to Wednesday due to extreme weather concerns.

Olivia Alexander, Reporter

Evanston/Skokie School District 65 administration and healthcare professionals expressed confidence the district could reopen schools safely at a virtual forum Thursday.

The district held the webinar for staff, parents and community members to discuss the logistics of its hybrid learning model, set to launch Feb. 16

Superintendent Devon Horton said the district will prioritize the health and safety of students and staff and community members as schools reopen. He said while doctors and other healthcare professionals provided the district with advice regarding reopening, the decision to launch hybrid learning came from the school board, administration and himself. 

“They were thought partners and gave us the research and the knowledge that we need in order to open our doors,” Horton said.

During the forum, Dr. David Soglin, chief medical officer at La Rabida Children’s Hospital and member of the Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics School Reopening Taskforce, discussed local COVID-19 metrics and research surrounding the operation of schools during the pandemic. 

Case numbers in both Illinois and Cook County have been declining. Region 10 positivity rates are also declining, currently standing below 8 percent, he said. 

Soglin, referenced research on school reopenings in Wisconsin. Despite high rates of COVID-19 being found in those communities, there was little COVID-19 spread related to return to in-person instruction.

Studies conducted in the past few months suggest reopening schools doesn’t necessarily increase the spread of COVID-19 in areas where there are low infection rates, but is more likely to increase the spread in communities with higher rates of COVID-19 transmission. 

Mask wearing is one of the district’s mitigation measures for in-person instruction. Dr. Sharon Robinson, parent and NorthShore University HealthSystem pediatrician, explained the layered approach the district is taking to reduce the spread of the virus. 

The first level of mitigation measures involves mask mandates, hand washing and social distancing. The district will also enforce more advanced measures, including the use of symptom trackers and the formation of smaller classroom cohorts, as well as enhanced cleaning, ventilation and contact tracing. 

Leaders also discussed the district’s approach to ensuring mental well-being during the transition to hybrid learning. With the debut of a new daily schedule and changes to protocol regarding transportation, meals and cleaning, NorthShore pediatric hospitalist, co-chair of the Child Protection Committee and D65 parent Dr. Bridget Wild encouraged families to promote mental health.

“Just having these conversations upfront will validate for your child that it’s okay to feel these things, experience these things, give them a way to bring it to your attention,” Wild said. “We all need a little bit of self care here and there.” 

Horton said he believes the plans will get students back on track, both academically and from a social-emotional standpoint. 

Although the launch brings many changes to students and staff’s daily lives, Stacy Beardsley, district assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said some things remain constant. 

“Your child is coming into an educator that cares deeply about them and is going to support their success in this new environment,” Beardsley said.

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Twitter: @oliviagalex

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