Superintendent Dr. Carol G. Perez announced that Mission Consolidated Schools will phase into face-to-face learning on March 23.
Since about November 2020, students have had the option to attend in-person, virtual instruction. This means some students were in the classroom with a teaching assistant, while most teachers and students were still working from home. Face-to-face instruction means putting both teacher and student in the classroom, which some students will be required to do once the phasing process begins.
The shift to face-to-face lessons will begin with students in transition grades, which includes 12th, ninth, eighth and fifth grades. In the weeks to follow, the district will gradually phase-in other grade levels. However, only students that are struggling academically or are not engaging in virtual instruction will be required to physically be on campus. The district is in the process of identifying those students and notifying the parents that their children are expected to report to campus on March 23. Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath announced that districts can require parents to send their kids to school if they are not performing well with remote classes.
“In looking at the statistics of underlying conditions in our community and in our school district, there is a huge percent, about 80 percent of the population, that has underlying [health] conditions. And that is the rationale for why we had to go into remote instruction and continue with remote instruction,” Perez said, citing COVID-19 environment data from the Hidalgo County Health Department. “However, we know that we must do something different for our children, not only for those that are falling behind but for the children that, for some reason, remote instruction is not the best option, as well.”
Campus leadership teams are developing action plans for the transition. Educators are essential workers and will need to report to campus as needed, Perez said. If a teacher or a staff member cannot report to their assigned duties, they will be referred to human resources for assistance. Class size will be capped at 11 students per room, even though the Texas Education Agency has not provided a cap for districts conducting in-person learning.
Mission CISD’s superintendent said the district will still follow Center for Disease Control guidelines as they transition to face-to-face classes. They will continue to conduct staff and student temperature checks, and staff COVID disclosure form reviews. Perez said they have plenty of personal protective equipment for the staff and students and will continue to disinfect throughout the day.
“We know that other school districts do different things. Why? Because that is what’s best for their community based on the environment of COVID,” the superintendent said. “We have taken a very cautious approach based on the data that’s available to us. So we will continue to phase-in and transition to face-to-face instruction until all staff will be in our classrooms.”
At the March 3 Mission school board workshop, Perez invited primary care physician Dr. Darryl L. Stinson to provide a current and future outlook on the COVID-19 pandemic. Perez said the district is beginning the phase-in process based on the information provided by Stinson and the Hidalgo County Public Health Department.
“I feel that by the end of April, we’re going to be at very different stats here with the pandemic. I can already see that the cases since December have already been much milder,” Stinson said. “Honestly, in the winter we’ve seen a lot more virus, a lot more spread, the numbers are higher, but the hospitalizations are way down. The intensity of the cases are way down.”
According to data from the county public health department, the highest number of COVID-related hospitalizations in a day was 1,080, which occurred on July 21, 2020. As of March 8, the number of hospitalizations on that day was down to 152. However, with 14,140 confirmed cases, Mission is now the city that has had the most number of COVID patients in the county. As of March 9, Hidalgo County has had 2,694 deaths due to the novel coronavirus.
To keep the trend of low-intensity cases down, Stinson said he recommends everyone gets vaccinated, and he reaffirmed there is nothing dangerous about the vaccine.
When it comes to reopening the schools to 100 percent capacity, the doctor does not agree that now is the right time, citing Governor Greg Abbott’s decision to completely reopen the state on March 10. Mission CISD’s superintendent agreed and stressed the importance of the district conducting a “cautious phase-in approach” to ensure CDC guidelines are followed.
Staff in the administration building began reporting back to the office over the last month, meaning their children have also had to return to campus for in-person, virtual classes. Perez said she has received positive feedback from this small group’s transition.
“They said the children love being back in school. They had a lot of fun. It didn’t matter that they were 6 feet apart. The fact that they got to see their friends, and they got to still interact as the teachers are teaching,” she said. “That was very, very powerful, we want to hear more of that. So this is very important to us and we take it very seriously because that is why we’re here. We are here for our children. It’s children first at Mission CISD.”