A suburban Chicago school district has said students of color will get the first chance to return for in-person learning when schools reopen, citing "a pandemic" of "inequity and racism, and classism" that preceded COVID-19.
Because District 65, which includes students from Evanston and Skokie, won't force teachers to work on-site, school buildings may not be able to accommodate all students who would like to come back to their classrooms. In that event, Superintendent Devon Horton reportedly said, the district would give priority to "Black and Brown students," and others it considered to be "marginalized" or "oppressed."
"This decision aligns directly to the guidance released by the Illinois State Board of Education on June 23 in using an equity lens to implement and transition into blended learning. This was also a top idea recommended by our Community-based Task Force," school district spokeswoman Melissa Messinger told Fox News. "As a community deeply committed to educational equity, we will continue to root our decisionmaking on how to best serve our most vulnerable student populations."
“We are in a pandemic," Horton said, according to a report from the Evanston Roundtable on Tuesday. “And we also know that everyone is affected by this differently. But there was a pandemic before this. That was inequity and racism, and classism and all of these other things. And so I just want to make sure that as we're making a decision – no decision is going to make everyone happy – we understand that.
"We're trying to support every single child to the best of our ability, and we can't allow a political cash train to take over our decision-making regarding how we return our students to school. We have to make sure that students who've been oppressed, that we don't continue to oppress them and that we give them opportunity."
He added: “I've heard for quite some time that this is a community that's about equity for Black and Brown students, for special education students, for LGBTQ students. We know that this is important work, and we're going to prioritize that.”
According to Deputy Superintendent Latarsha Green, the district will also prioritize students who are struggling academically. She said the prioritized categories include “students receiving free or reduced lunch, Black and Brown students, students who received an I [Incomplete] or less than 50% on their report cards, emerging bilinguals, and students with IEPs."
"There are also other categories in relation to students who are not performing according to reading or math grade-level expectations, and students with no comorbidity factors," she added.
The school district did not immediately respond to Fox News' request for comment. Classes are scheduled to begin with remote learning on Aug. 27, with a potential in-person option beginning Sept. 29. The number of available spaces reportedly depends on teachers, availability of bus transportation, and the capacity of school buildings.
The Trump administration has pushed hard for schools to reopen for in-person instruction as usual this fall, with President Trump at one point threatening to withhold funding from districts that opt for remote learning.
In June, McKinsey & Company estimated that students would lose roughly three months of learning for calendar year 2020 and see 232,000 additional high school dropouts if in-classroom learning resumed in the fall. By comparison, students could lose around seven months of learning if in-person classes resume in January 2021, and a full year (12.4 months) if districts wait until fall 2021.
In addition, the estimated number of additional high school dropouts would be between 684,000 (if in-person class resumes in January 2021) and 1.1 million (if in-person classes resume in fall 2021).
Despite the grim forecast, a number of large school districts across the country have pushed back their physical reopening to later in the fall and decided to remain remote for the start of the school year; in the case of Los Angeles, Chicago and San Diego, they have opted for all-remote learning during the pandemic.
Fox News' Ronn Blitzer contributed to this report.