This Monday at noon, the new La Joya ISD Board of Trustees held a special called meeting via Zoom for the first time.
Superintendent Dr. Gisela Saenz presented a waiver for the district’s request to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) for approval, as well as the district staff’s process of returning to work. The first motion, for the waiver, was approved by the board after a discussion.
Saenz said the district has used all available options from TEA given to the La Joya Independent School District to be able to limit the number of students on campus and enable a transition process. The first four weeks of instruction were completely online for all students, and the second four weeks of instruction students who did not have access to a reliable internet/Wi-Fi connection, and “some parent’s choice students” were transitioned back into the classroom.
In the third four weeks of instruction, LJISD applied for an additional waiver limiting the amount of high school students who were on campus based on groups.
“Initially, the state had only approved the first two,” Saenz said. “However on Friday we did get notified by the TEA Commissioner that he had approved the additional two weeks, which will be from Nov. 16 to Dec. 4.”
Saenz said the waiver will allow the district to restrict the number of students in a high school, “the most populated [campuses] that have the highest risk.” She thanked the board for supporting the different transitions.
“Once we finish these last four weeks, which would take us to Nov. 30, we would have to invite all [schools],” Saenz said, noting the campuses are large with approximately over 2,000 students each. “To be able to manage this, TEA has made this waiver available now.”
The waiver asks that La Joya be allowed to bring in two schools that want to come back in-person only two days out of the week. Saenz said that for example, on Mondays and Wednesdays, they would only bring in ninth through twelfth grade students whose last names start with the letters A to G.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, ninth through twelfth grade students whose last names start with H through Z will be brought in. On Fridays everyone will be using remote learning from home, as well as the days students are not present for in-person instruction.
Elementary and middle schools will continue to invite all students without internet infrastructure for in-person instruction.
“We are asking for board approval of this waiver, which is the next step in still being able to control the number of kids that are in our high schools,” Saenz said. “This waiver is only available for high schools, it is not available for elementary or middle school students.”
Saenz added that La Joya ISD will still have parent choice available, and anyone can continue online at-home instruction throughout the school year.
“This plan right here would be only for those parents who wish to have their students learn from campus,” Saenz said. “The number of kids at the high school would also help us limit the staff that would be required to be at the high school.”
This plan for the high schools will start on Dec. 7 and will be continued indefinitely as of now, unless the board assigned an end date to it.
Board member Dr. Alda Benavides asked about how the staff will be selected to come in.
“The staff will be selected based on the need, and that’s in our next agenda item, that’s the plan, but basically we will match the kids that are coming onto the campus,” Saenz said. “Principals would select which staff they need and ask that staff to come in.”
La Joya ISD is required to have the students on campus at least 40 percent of the time, which is two days out of the week. Then-Board Secretary Oscar Salinas asked if the staff would be rotated, and Saenz confirmed that they would be in a rotation.
Saenz also presented the return to work staff process, which the board approved. She said they were grateful to the principals who worked with administration and have been coming in to discuss the transition plan.
“We do need to prepare to bring more teachers, especially to the high schools, than we have in the past,” Saenz said. “We have a return to work plan that will allow us to bring the staff in safely in a pre-planned method.”
Starting Dec. 7, elementary staff will either come in for a morning or afternoon half of the day every day, or alternate in groups every other week. High school staff will come in for full days on Mon./Wed. or Tues./Thurs.
Saenz said for high school students who don’t have reliable internet access and need to come in daily, there will need to be additional staff to accommodate them, even on Fridays. Immunocompromised employees at higher risk of contracting the coronavirus may not be able to return to campus.
“We do have an accommodation process, and basically these teachers are asked to self-report to their principals,” Saenz said. “In some cases when it is due to a medical illness, they do need to bring doctor’s documentation. We need to have the process for these employees who, for these reasons, do need to remain working from home.”
Some staff members have already filled out and been granted these accommodations at La Joya ISD. Saenz said they can also provide other accommodations like installing plexiglass shields on their desks and requiring all employees wear masks.
“Of course, this is a precaution that we’re doing district-wide,” Saenz said. “For some employees, we might need to replace air filters more frequently, install additional desk dividers, work on staggered scheduling, having more hand sanitizing stations more available and always enforce all existing safety protocols.”
The board discussed ensuring that all teachers and staff know every possible option available to them for accommodations, and brought up ideas for staff coming for in-person instruction. Salinas thanked Saenz and the entire staff at La Joya ISD for their work throughout this unprecedented school year, and she said it was all done with the support of the board.
On Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020, the LJISD Board held another special called meeting, in which they realigned the board. The new board alignment is as follows: Board President Oscar Salinas, Board Vice President Armin Garza, Board Secretary Dr. Alda T. Benavides, Board Member Dr. Nereyda Cantu, Board Member Mary Hernandez, Board Member Espie Ochoa and Board Member Alex Cantu.