Local public school district officials waiting several weeks for Texas Education Agency guidance for the 2020-21 academic year did not see anything earth shattering in the state’s July 7 announcement.
“I feel very confident, as a district, that, with what we’ve been doing already and what we’ve planned, we’re in a real good position,” said Dr. Chris Allen, superintendent for the Marble Falls Independent School District. “Basically, what the state requires us to do, we will, and where they are providing guidance, we’ll work with our teachers, parents, and administrators to do what’s best for our students and our district.”
The TEA outlined requirements that public school districts must follow for the upcoming year amid the COVID-19 pandemic. A major item is giving parents the option of sending their children to class five days a week.
“We were going to do that already,” Allen said, “so we have already been discussing bringing students back to school.”
Parents also can choose to keep their children out of the classroom and have them taught virtually.
Under TEA guidance, parents can switch their student’s learning model at any point of the school year, though districts might require changes be made at the end of a grading period.
The Burnet Consolidated Independent School District is also preparing for both in-class and virtual learning options and will allow changes at the end of each six-week grading period.
A hybrid learning model, which had been discussed earlier this summer, seems to have been abandoned. Students would have alternated between in-class and at-home instruction each week. Some education officials do not think that model is feasible as it puts more work and stress on teachers.
The state will allow a phased-in return to campus through the first three weeks of school, giving districts additional time to make sure health and safety requirements and protocols are in place. BCISD’s first day is Monday, August 17, while MFISD students return Wednesday, August 19.
Face coverings for teachers, staff, and students ages 10 and older will be required, as of now, while indoors. This is per Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent executive order requiring face coverings in counties with 20 or more COVID-19 cases. Exceptions exist. School districts, according to the TEA, are required to follow the governor’s executive orders.
Other health and safety guidance from the state includes that “all students, teachers, staff and visitors coming to campus must be screened before being allowing on campus.”
“Everything we have in place at this point generally aligns with TEA’s rules and guidance,” MFISD’s Allen said.
Marble Falls ISD will hold parent meetings for questions and input at 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, July 14, and Thursday, July 16, in the Colt Elementary School cafeteria, 2200 Manzano Mile in Marble Falls. Allen said the meetings will be the same, so parents can choose one to attend. The meetings also will be held virtually via Zoom. Information on how to connect to the Zoom meeting will be released closer to the two dates.
During the week of July 13, BCISD officials will survey parents about their thoughts on the new school year, particularly on if they plan to send their students to school for in-person learning or keep them home for virtual learning. Parents may contact their student’s campus the week of July 13 if they do not hear from the district regarding the survey.
BCISD officials noted on the district’s Frequently Asked Question webpage that virtual learning for the 2020-21 academic year will be more challenging and rigorous compared to the last nine weeks of the previous school year. More information is available on the FAQ page. The district will not mail lesson packets to students in the upcoming year as it did the last nine weeks of the previous year.
Both districts are still planning how they will protect student, staff, and teachers when they return to class. The TEA will provide personal protective equipment to districts as well as reimburse districts for COVID-19-related expenses during the 2019-20 school year.
The state is also funding districts for both in-person and virtual learning. Districts had expressed concern about whether the state would count students who choose to learn remotely in the funding formula.
Students in both local school districts have not been in class since March 13. Returning them to campus is not just a state objective. The American Academy of Pediatrics has emphasized the importance of in-person learning on children’s overall well-being and health. In a statement, the AAP “strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school. The importance of in-person learning is well documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020.”
The AAP pointed out that school district policies must remain flexible amid the changing pandemic, taking into account local statistics.
Allen said the district still has work to do to get ready for the first day of school.
“We’re moving ahead,” he said. “This is something we’ve been discussing and planning since early May, so I feel like we’re in a good position.”