Schools continue to wait on reopening decisions

School districts across the state will have to wait some more for guidance from the Texas Education Agency on how to reopen schools in the fall.

On Tuesday, the TEA was expected to announce guidelines for how to reopen school districts after announcing last week it was safe for students, teachers and staff to return to school in the fall.

“But there will also be flexibility for families with health concerns so that their children can be educated remotely, if the parent so chooses,” Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said in a statement.

Morath held a Tuesday briefing of school superintendents who had been expecting him to outline the agency’s reopening guidelines where, instead of laying out plans on how schools should reopen in the fall, announced that parents will have an option to have their child taught remotely at home for the upcoming school year, depending on the status of the pandemic.

“We are unable to give final guidance today on on-campus instruction. We are actively monitoring the situation, and we will try to get out final information as quickly as possible,” Morath said during the briefing according to the Texas Tribune.

A document on the TEA website shows that the agency will distribute PPE to students and staff. This includes 53 million disposable masks, 600,000 gallons of hand sanitizer, 42,500 thermometers and 1 million face shields to school districts across the state.

In a statement, the Rio Grande City school district said that parents choosing to continue letting their children practice distance learning will have the option of choosing either Remote Synchronous Instruction – a two-way, real-time and live virtual instruction between teachers and students, and Remote Asynchronous Instruction. The latter option does not require having the instructor and student engaged at the same time as the students will be watching a recording. 

“Both instructional methods must address the required curriculum, per Texas Education Code, the district said in a notice to parents. “TEA also acknowledged that it is still too early to release specific information on structure for in-person instruction for the new school year. We will continue to provide updates when they are available.”

The school district also said that attendance will be taken daily for students practicing distant learning and counted for school district funding.

With the delay in reopening guidelines, Sharyland ISD Superintendent Dr. Maria Vidaurri said the district is holding off on announcing plans to return to school.

“Some more guidelines are expected next week and we are waiting until then to make a more informed decision,” Vidaurri said. “We won’t have anything ready until mid-July. We want to refine the plans and then have board approval.”

Previously, Sharyland ISD officials discussed three possible scenarios for how students can return to school in the fall. These scenarios include a partial return where some students come back to campus and the others continue to practice distant learning, all students continue to practice distant learning and all students coming back to campus in the fall with social distance guidelines. 

“With the governor’s orders of students attending school in the fall, we’re leaning with the hybrid scenario,” Vidaurri said.

The hybrid scenario is one that parents may be comfortable with. According to Vidaurri, the district sent out a survey to parents last May which showed that 58 percent of parents were comfortable sending their children back to school in the fall.

An additional 12 percent reported they didn’t feel comfortable sending their children back to school while the remaining 30 percent said they were unsure.

“But this attitude could change given how we’re seeing an increase in new cases of COVID-19,” Vidaurri said, adding that the district will send a second survey next month to see if parents have changed their minds on school reopening.

“We’re looking at different models to ensure social distancing such as plexiglass around students, dividers for kids, hand sanitizers in every entrance,” Vidaurri said. “We’re looking at our facilities to ensure we’re doing everything we can to keep students and staff safe.”

As a precaution, school board trustees approved the purchasing of 52 infrared walkthrough body temperatures scanners that will be placed at the entrances of all their buildings for $178,000. 

The walkthrough scanners check students’ temperatures and alert people if their temperature is over 100.4°F. 

The district has invested $1.2 million in Wi-Fi hotspots and Chromebooks to prepare for distant learning in the fall should schools end up shutting down again.

“We’re hoping for a fluid opening process as we go through this and hear more of what officials have to say on the reopening,” Vidaurri said. “We’re excited to see what’s going to happen in the fall and be ready for that.”

 

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