As the county continues to wait for any signs of a spike in new COVID-19 cases following the Labor Day holiday, the Sharyland school district announced Thursday it would reopen one of its campuses to students next week before giving parents the option of letting the parents return to school next month.
During a special called meeting Thursday, Sharyland district Superintendent Dr. Maria M Vidaurri announced the district would be moving forward with its four-week transition period to allow on-campus instruction by Tuesday, Oct. 13.
As part of its transition plan, students at the Sharyland Alternative Education Center – which Vidaurri said serves at risk students – will reopen on Monday, Sept. 14.
“It has smaller class sizes and we’ve talked with the principal, his students and staff who say they prepared to start on-campus instruction,” Vidaurri informed the board. “That would suffice with our requirement of having some students and staff on campus for in-person learning during the transition period of the new school year.”
Like many school districts throughout the country, Sharyland closed its doors to the public last March following the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus that has infected more than 6 million people and killed 192,000 in the country.
Following Thursday’s school board meeting, the county reported 127 new COVID-19 cases and 21 deaths, bringing the total number of cases to 29,209 and the total amount of COVID-19 deaths to 1,355.
The Sharyland school district started its 2020-2021 school year last month with all students taking online classes as many districts in the Valley choose to delay the reopening of schools. As per an executive order by Hidalgo County Health Authority Dr. Ivan Melendez that was issued last July, all private and public schools are to not reopen their campuses for in-person instruction until after September 27.
The Texas Education Agency ruled that school districts must carry out remote learning for the first four weeks of the school year and may request a waiver to delay the start of on-campus instruction for another four weeks.
Sharyland, like many districts in the county, requested the waiver. The four week extension begins next week
“As part of the waiver, some on-campus instruction must be provided each day, “Vidaurri said. “We are in essence the first local school district to reach its fifth week of learning.”
Following the end of the waiver extension, Sharyland will enact the Parent Choice Plan which was unveiled during a July board meeting.
Under this plan, each family may choose whether their child learns on-campus or remotely for the remainder of the school year.
Should a parent decide to let their child learn on campus, the district will follow CDC guidelines for schools that include providing PPE to all students and staff while enforcing physical distancing and daily deep cleaning of every building.
Parents who decide to continue with remote learning can do so as the district continues to provide an education fully aligned to the instruction being delivered on campus.
Students taking remote learning will take prescheduled, real-time instruction and two to four hours of virtual interaction with teachers and fellow students throughout the day.
The rest of the school day will consist of independent practice and ongoing support, according to the district.
Results of a survey sent out last month showed that only 70 percent of Sharyland parents would not want their child to return to campus.
“There is no wrong choice here,” Vidaurri said of the options presented by the Parent Choice Plan. “We’re sitting at 30 percent of the population wanting to go back to school and we will do another survey soon to see if those feelings have changed. We had a robust execution of remote learning for our students and we’re not perfect but we’re working through everything going on in our curriculum and instruction to execute the best learning platform for our children at this time.”
Vidaurri said the district will unveil finalized plans regarding the district’s extracurricular activities during a board workshop set for Monday, Sept. 21.
“There’s been a little uncertainty as to what will happen with the pandemic, I want to assure parents that as their superintendent, I am doing the best I can so we can all provide the best education for our kids,” Vidaurri said. “The health and safety of our students is our priority.”