Pupil security and psychological well being at high of thoughts as ETHS opened its doorways once more this week

Police vehicles surrounded ETHS during a gun lockdown on December 16, the last day of face-to-face learning before this week. (Photo by Adina Keeling)

After a two-week hiatus during the winter break, Evanston Township High School reopened for face-to-face tuition on Monday, January 10, amid ongoing concerns about the omicron wave of COVID-19. After 129 students tested positive in the week up to December 17, the school put lessons online for the last five days of class of the fall semester in an “adaptive break” to contain the spread of the virus.

Due to the switch to online learning before the winter break, Monday was also the first day in the school building for schoolchildren since an hour-long lockdown on Thursday, December 16, after ETH security officers caught two schoolchildren with loaded handguns in their backpacks.

In an email to students and families dated Tuesday, January 11, Superintendent Dr. Eric Witherspoon reported that school officials are working with the Evanston Police Department to conduct a review of the lockdown, and noted that the safety of the school was not permanently in danger.

“There is no evidence that students bring weapons to school to use at ETHS; Investigations since December 16 show that the students had the guns for personal protection based on community violence, ”Witherspoon wrote in his Tuesday message. “However, ETHS consults with security experts and uses the research to determine which measures, such as the installation of metal detectors, can support a safer school building.”

But between the ongoing uncertainty of the pandemic, fears of violence at school, and overarching mental health concerns, parents and teachers alike have recognized the increased needs of students this school year. At the last meeting of the School Committee of ETHS District 202 in December, Dr. Taya Kinzie, deputy principal for student services, that the suicide risk assessments carried out at ETHS increased by 100% from autumn 2019 to autumn 2021 Hospital stays increased by 50%.

Taking these statistics into account, on Tuesday evening, ETHS hosted a virtual Family Talk Series event on suicide prevention in adolescents with Dr. Jonathan Singer, a District 65 parent and professor at Loyola University Chicago. In his presentation, Singer highlighted that a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in June 2020 found that 25% of young adults at that point reported having had suicidal thoughts in the last 30 days, up from 11% in June 2019.

Communicating with your children regularly and letting them know that you are there when they need something can be effective strategies to support their mental health and well-being, Singer told parents who attended the event Tuesday.

Angelique Ketzback, the parents of an ETHS newbie and a special education teacher herself, told the RoundTable that she was “really worried” because she was a parent about the gun lockdown following a mass shooting at a gas station on Green Bay Road.

“I don’t feel the school has enough support,” she said, adding that she hopes ETHS will provide more direct psychological support services to students in the future.

Ketzback also said that a group of parents started a petition to ETHS to install some sort of weapon detection system outside of the school building, be it metal detectors or something else, and she said the school needs to communicate more effectively in order to build trust with parents and families . For example, a town hall meeting where students, parents and teachers can interview school administrators directly about school safety, COVID-19, mental health needs and more would provide a much-needed open and honest discussion, she said.

Despite record levels of COVID-19 in the community, ETHS and local health officials are keen to continue with face-to-face schooling. High vaccination rates for students and teachers, as well as the correct wearing of masks, can limit the spread of COVID-19 and the severity of the disease if tests are positive, Ketzback said.

“I don’t feel like going to remote (learning) is worthwhile at the moment. The vaccination rate for students is very high, the vaccination rate for teachers is very high, we have to find out something, ”she told the RoundTable in a telephone interview.

“Many other schools and many other communities are able to do this, and I think Evanston Schools need to be able to figure out how to do it. If it got isolated, I would probably think very seriously about moving out of Evanston. “

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