D202 teachers discuss concerns about hybrid learning announcement


Illustration by Cynthia Zhang.

Evanston Township High School/District 202 will begin hybrid learning in April.

Olivia Alexander, Reporter

After months of collaboration between Evanston Township High School/School District 202 administrators and the school’s certified staff union, teachers said they were blindsided by the  decision to begin hybrid instruction in April.  

GionMatthias Schelbert, president of District 202 Teachers’ Council, said District 202 superintendent Eric Witherspoon’s announcement was an abrupt end to their time spent working together. 

“(The announcement) was a shock. We were not counseled and were not talked to,” Schelbert said. “It was just decided, and it appears that the decision was a unilateral action by Dr. Witherspoon that was not supported by other administrators or teachers.” 

At a board meeting just two weeks ago, Schelbert said the administration and board members applauded the district’s current model, where academic courses are entirely remote and some extracurricular activities are offered in-person. Administration and board members agreed the model was working well and complimented it as “thinking outside the box.” The change in plan, then, felt sudden to Schelbert.

In a written response released Monday, the Teachers’ Council asked that Witherspoon uphold the current learning model, which allows teachers to teach remotely while providing students with voluntary in-person learning and extracurricular opportunities. The letter said staying the course would be better than implementing a new model during the school year’s 4th quarter. 

At that night’s school board meeting, Witherspoon said the decision to reopen is in line with guidance from Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. J.B. Pritzker, and eases the transition from remote to in-person learning. 

At the meeting, Witherspoon acknowledged the time it would take to transition fully into the classroom and that it wouldn’t be an immediate process.

Witherspoon did not respond to requests for comment.

In their letter to Witherspoon and the school board, Teachers’ Council cited data from a hybrid-learning selection form the administration sent out to district families at the beginning of March. 

In the form, 73.3 percent of students identifying as Asian and 69.1 percent of students identifying as White indicated they plan to return to the school building for classes. Only 30 percent of students identifying as Hispanic/Latinx and 21.3 percent of students identifying as Black/African American indicated they would do the same. 

“We will, in essence, have created two schools as a result of offering the simultaneous hybrid teaching model,” the letter read.

In a public comment to the District 202 board, English teacher Abdel Shakur said he views reopening through a lens of racial equity. 

Although he misses his classroom, he said reopening too soon could mean efforts to center the needs of Black and brown students will be “sidelined” by fear and distrust. 

“If we reopen too early, particularly at the expense of Black and brown bodies, the real tragedy will be that we sacrifice so much that we kept our schools closed to justice,” Shakur said. 

Schelbert said the proposed hybrid learning plan concerns him because teachers will have less time to dedicate to extracurricular activities while they shift their focus to returning to the classroom. Going back to school for purely academic purposes will conflict the Teachers’ Council’s main priority of students’ social-emotional health, he said.

For example, Schelbert said he doesn’t believe he will have time to continue to keep the school planetarium open while he prepares for hybrid learning.

Schelbert also said surrounding districts — which adopted models involving simultaneous instruction of both in-person and remote students — are failing. He said academic standards are compromised as teachers accommodate for these new teaching environments, and he prefers the model Teachers’ Council developed. 

ETHS history and economics teacher Julian Sotnick also said he fears the district is returning to the classroom too soon. 

Sotnick said the district’s remote learning has been the best it possibly can be, as attendance and achievement levels are good, and in-person extracurricular options provide students with a way to safely enter the building. 

Sotnick said he is concerned this hybrid plan will be less successful than remote learning, for students and staff alike. On a practical level, he said he wonders how he is going to successfully teach students both in the classroom and on a video call. 

“Let’s not forget that we’re dealing with high school students. And when you tell kids that age you’ve got to wear masks, you’ve got to wash your hands, you can’t hug each other, they’re going to forget,” Sotnick said. “I worry that this is not going to be a very safe thing.” 

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