District 65 announces no school on Monday or Tuesday


Daily file photo by Patrick Svitek

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

Olivia Alexander, Senior Staffer

Evanston/Skokie School District 65 announced Friday afternoon there will be no classes on Monday and Tuesday this week. 

Students will return to school Nov. 29 following Fall Break, Superintendent Devon Horton said in a letter to the community. The announcement comes in light of district staff shortages. The district used to have the capacity to replace 85% of staff absences prior to the pandemic—but for Monday and Tuesday’s scheduled excused staff absences, the fill rate was 21%, D65’s Director of Communications Melissa Messinger told Evanston RoundTable.

“This decision was made both in the interest of safety and the mental health of our team,” Horton wrote Friday. “Based on numbers received today, we do not have adequate staffing or sub coverage to provide the necessary care or to support high quality learning next week.” 

District Educators’ Council president Maria Barroso sent teachers an email on Thursday asking those affected by stress to consider taking a sick day the following week, Evanston RoundTable reported. Rising COVID-19 cases and other issues are taking a toll on teachers, she wrote, and she encouraged teachers “to be respectful to families” and report their anticipated absences ahead of time so the district could plan.

There is a substitute crisis, but there is a need to be able to have a day to just breathe,” Barroso wrote. “If you need to take a day or two off next week, you should put in for a sick day … soon (today).” 

Barroso did not immediately respond to The Daily’s request for comment.

Horton said the low numbers are a result of educators and support staff needing to rest, focus on mental health and tend to their own families. At its Nov. 11 meeting, the D65 school board heard updates on student and staff mental health and the pandemic’s connection to increased student mental health emergencies. Board members discussed the ways this increase in student crises creates emotional exhaustion for teachers and staff.

In September, teachers also protested their working conditions and demanded transparent COVID-19 safety protocols and procedures from administrators.

While D65 recognizes the news is difficult for working families in particular, the district was unable to connect with childcare providers and community partners to coordinate services, Horton wrote. These groups face the same staffing shortages as the school district.

However, the district’s Nutrition Services team will continue to coordinate food distribution for students. On Monday, Nov. 22, families can pick up several days worth of meals at Chute Middle School, Haven Middle School and Nichols Middle School from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m.

Emergency room nurse Elie Appleson Hale’s 5-year-old son attends Park School, which serves students with special needs. Hale said he receives occupational, physical and speech therapy every day. She is concerned the nine days without services will set him back.

“If he’s home for the next two days, he most certainly is taking steps back, and it takes him a very long time to move forward,” Hale said.  

She said the school closures are going to be especially difficult for her family, as her son needs a caregiver that knows how to support him. Rather, Hale said she is lining up family friends to care for him Monday. Tuesday, she said she believes she’ll have to take off work. 

Hale said she is not against teachers taking two consecutive mental health days, but she wants her son to be in school every day possible. 

Julie Windsor Mitchell, whose son attends Nichols Middle School, said she is grateful her son is old enough to not require childcare during the two days without school. 

Mitchell said there are bigger issues than students being out of school for two days. They’ll make it up at the end of the year, she said. As a result of the decision, the D65 school year will be extended two days. The last day of school will be Wednesday, June 8 for K-8 students and Monday, June 6 for students at Joseph E. Hill Early Childhood Education Center. 

“The bigger concern that I have has to do with having adequate staffing and enough sub coverage in the schools,” Mitchell said. “I understand that the teachers really need to rest, and everyone’s stressed right now (and) the administration is stressed. It concerns me that there aren’t enough staff subs and staff in general in all the schools and District 65.” 

She said her impression is that the pandemic amplified stress and staff shortages, but she also said these issues are part of national labor trends. Mitchell said she hopes teachers can get the breaks they need, and that administration, teachers and school board members will work together to solve these problems.

In the district’s letter to families, Horton acknowledged the impact cancelling school will have on working families, but said pandemic-related stress is burning teachers out as they juggle personal and professional responsibilities. He said the district must acknowledge this and continue to support those who directly work with the students.

“We know this is very difficult and we hope that our community can both respect and understand the unique circumstances of this situation and those we all continue to face,” Horton wrote. “We know our staff, families and students are all doing their best.”

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Twitter: @oliviagalex

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