Over 75 percent of Burnet school district parents and staff reported they are “comfortable” with students returning to class in August even as COVID-19 remains in the picture.
However, opinions differ on how the district should make that happen.
The input came from a Burnet Consolidated Independent School District online survey conducted June 9-17. BCISD Superintendent Keith McBurnett told the Board of Trustees on June 22 that 779 people responded to survey, including parents (67 percent), staff (15 percent), and staff who are also parents (18 percent).
The survey included questions on how well respondents thought virtual/online learning went in the spring as well as how parents/staff feel about students returning to in-person learning in August and what steps the district should take.
On remote learning, 32 percent of respondents called it a challenging endeavor, while 42 percent rated it as “pretty good” or “great.” About a quarter of those surveyed called it a “so-so” experience.
Thirty-six percent of staff respondents said the remote learning process was slightly more challenging from their standpoint.
As for reopening schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic, 56 percent of the respondents favored doing so “as close to normal as possible” while 14 percent preferred classes remain online “until the COVID-19 situation is over.” Almost 30 percent said schools should resume classes but “with significant changes to lower the risk.”
The survey gave parents and staff several options for how to best mitigate COVID-19 when classes resume, including alternating days with some students in class and others online or dividing the school day into two shifts with students attending only half a day, either in the morning or afternoon.
McBurnett said early indications from the Texas Education Agency on how classes could look in the fall came from its summer school guidance. Under those rules, the TEA recommends individual students have 45 square feet of space and 6 feet of social distancing. Based on those numbers, classes could only accommodate 12-15 students at a time, he told the board. However, the TEA, he said, could grant schools more flexibility in the fall.
Four protocols that drew at least 75 percent of respondents’ support were making hand sanitizer available in all classes (95 percent), alerting parents of new COVID-19 cases on their student’s campus (92 percent), enhanced cleaning (99 percent), and daily temperature checks (76 percent).
“Almost every classroom has (hand sanitizer), but we’re in the process of making sure that every space that has a student will have hand sanitizer available, including doorways in which people will enter,” McBurnett said.
Trustee Mark Kincaid said his church started in-person vacation Bible school on June 22, and leaders discovered that taking the temperature of each of the 125 children before they could enter the church created a log jam. With BCISD having about 3,200 students, temperature checks could cause even more congestion.
McBurnett agreed, adding he did not want to cause a situation in which parents dropping off their students had to sit in their cars for a long period of time as temperature checks took place. He pointed out it also raises the question of what happens if they take a student’s temperature and it’s high. Hopefully, McBurnett said, the parent is still nearby.
The big question is on steps taken if a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19. BCISD already conducts contact tracing when a staff member or student either tests positive for COVID-19 during summer school or comes into close contact with someone with the disease. Close contact per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is 15 minutes within 6 feet of someone with the disease.
Summer school has only a handful of staff and students, said McBurnett, compared to 3,200 students and 500 staff members during the regular school year. He added the district also has to determine at what point it would close a class or campus due to COVID-19.
The superintendent said the district will use the parent/staff survey, along with coming guidance from Mike Morath, the Texas commissioner of education, to formulate a plan on reopening campuses. McBurnett expects Morath will offer additional guidance during a planned call with superintendents at about 3 p.m. June 23.
“With guidance from the TEA, the guidance from this survey, we look forward to developing a plan as soon as possible,” McBurnett added.