Following a recommendation last week from the Hidalgo County health authority, the Sharyland school board has decided to continue to delay the start of in-person learning.
The Sharyland school district had originally set Tuesday, Oct. 13 as the start date for in-person learning for students under its Parent Choice Plan but on Monday, school board trustees voted to delay that start date until Monday, Oct. 26.
“We’d like to respect the Hidalgo County order and delay the implementation of the parent choice plan, that has been our process since day one,” district Superintendent Dr. Maria M. Vidaurri told board members Monday.
Last week, Hidalgo County Health Authority Dr. Ivan Melendez issued an order recommending all school districts continue to delay the start of in-person learning and athletics through Oct. 26. The recommendation was ordered days before his original July order delaying the start of sports and in-person athletics expired last Sunday.
“We do know the order is not enforceable, but we want to respect what the health authority is saying,” Vidaurri said. We’d like to request the additional transitional delay from the Texas Education Agency.”
Last week, the TEA ruled that it can grant additional delays to school districts on a case by case basis, Vidaurri said. With the extension, which was approved by the board, the start of in-person learning for those who request it will start on Oct. 26.
“But we still have to have some students on campus during a transitional period prior to that date to show the TEA we are there is an effort of still trying to bring students to campus,” Vidaurri said.
As part of the original transition period that started last month, the Sharyland school district reopened its Sharyland Alternative Education Center which serves at-risk students. At a board workshop last week, Vidaurri said the center was seeing an attendance of five students per day since it opened as part of the Parent Choice Plan.
On Oct. 14, academically at-risk students who have failed at least two core subjects during the first few weeks of school will be invited to their respective campus for in-person learning. That day will also mark the first day of teachers returning to campus to teach in their classrooms for in person and virtual learning.
“We’re looking at around 9 percent of our students who qualify to come back under this plan,” Vidaurri said of the new transition period.
With the new date, the start of sub varsity athletics will be delayed by as much as three weeks as Sharyland started their varsity athletics season on Monday, Vidaurri informed the board.
Sub-varsity athletics will begin on Oct. 13, freshman athletics would begin the following week and athletics at the junior high school level won’t begin until Oct. 26.
Melendez’s recommendation also asked districts to delay the start of their athletic season. In a previous interview with the Progress Times, Melendez argues that the start of athletics will create an increase in the amount of COVID-19 cases due to so much close contact between student athletes who could potentially spread the disease to others.
“When students go back to sports, the numbers will increase, there’s no question about it,” Melendez said. “The virus doesn’t care if you’re in a gathering like protests, church, schools, games, all the virus cares is that you’re in a large group of people for it to spread.”
As of Wednesday, the county has 31,835 confirmed COVID-19 cases with 2,156 of those cases marked as active. According to Melendez, the total amount of pediatric cases stands at 4,194 with 102 of those marked as active.
Hidalgo County continues to see a decline in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, but Melendez still criticized the decisions from schools to delay in-person learning while starting with their athletic season, which many districts such as Sharyland started on Monday.
“If the schools are too dangerous for in person education then it’s so inconsistent to say ‘you’re too sick to go to history or math but not sick enough to be in football,’” Melendez said. “My recommendation was to wait but ultimately it’s up to the school boards to decide what to do in this situation.”
School board trustee Ricardo “Ricky” Longoria echoed Melendez’s concerns at the Monday meeting.
“I am trying to reconcile how we can have varsity sports starting now but we can’t start school,” Longoria said, adding that the district hasn’t sent out a survey to all the Sharyland parents asking parents if they feel comfortable sending their children back to campus since August.
“I wish I knew what the public desire was and we don’t have that information,” Longoria said.
The August survey found that only 30 percent of Sharyland parents would feel comfortable sending their children back to campus. Since the board meeting, the district released a new survey for parents that they have until Friday, Oct. 9 to complete.
The survey is available on Skyward Family Access, the online tool for parents on the district’s website that helps parents monitor their student’s grades in school.
Despite a new district wide survey, Sharyland Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction Pam Montalvo informed the board that the district has results of a survey sent out in mid-September for parents of kindergarten students that found only 10 percent of parents would send their kindergarten students back to school.
“And that was at a 100 percent response rate,” Montalvo told the board. “From discussions with teachers and administrators who talk with parents and students, they tell us they feel that the amount of people who would feel comfortable sending their kids back to campus would still be around 30 percent.”