The Marble Falls Independent School District will publicly announce a final plan for the 2020-21 school year no later than August 3, Superintendent Chris Allen promised during a parent input meeting July 14. Unless, of course, everything changes by then.
School is scheduled to start August 19 for MFISD.
The Tuesday meeting included a detailed presentation and breakout groups for parents to ask questions and discuss their concerns about schools reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was attended by more than 350 people remotely and about 75 in person.
Led by Allen, officials explained to parents what the state has mandated so far, what both in-person and remote learning options for students will most likely entail, and what will be expected of parents, students, and district staff.
“Everything we are talking about is in draft form,” Allen said as he opened the meeting. “We have thoughts that we have put together, but we are not comfortable saying ‘let’s do this’ because we have not had a chance to hear from you or our educators.”
The district will hold a second parent input meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday, July 16, in the Colt Elementary School cafeteria, 2200 Manzano Mile in Marble Falls. It will be the same as the Tuesday meeting, so there is no need for parents to attend both.
Those wanting to watch online can do so via Zoom by clicking the link or calling 346-248-7799. The meeting identification number is 917 0508 4731.
The district will continue the discussion on reopening campuses during a school board meeting Monday, July 20, and a staff collaboration on Wednesday, July 22. Administration will discuss a final plan, which will remain flexible based on how the pandemic plays out over the next several weeks, on July 27-28 before announcing it to the public.
First major point: Masks will be required for anyone 10 and older per Gov. Greg Abbott’s statewide face covering mandate.
“We have no control over that,” Allen said. “This is a state requirement.”
Administrators will work with the state on how to make that happen. Fourth-grade classes have both 9- and 10-year-olds, which presents a problem.
A minor sampling of what to expect in the coming year:
- Water fountains will be turned off or have been removed from buildings. Students will need to bring their own water bottles, which they can refill at newly installed water-filling stations.
- Only students, teachers, and administrators will be allowed on campuses for the first nine weeks of school.
- Group assemblies will not be held, club meetings will be limited, and large group classes such as choir and band will be spaced out and held in different places than before.
- Social distancing of students could lead to lunches in different spaces, including hallways and classrooms. Student desks for classroom instruction also might end up in hallways.
- Hallway traffic will follow one-way patterns during classroom changes, and those changes, including dismissals, will be spaced out over time.
- Remote learning will not look like it did in the spring. Students will be expected to be online and checking in online for a full day of classroom instruction.
- Teachers will have both in-person and remote students to teach during the school day. In-person students will interact with remote students.
- Whether in-person or remote learning is chosen, that decision will have to stand for an entire grading period. Changes can be made between grading periods.
- Football will most likely happen but probably without an in-person audience. Plans are underway to televise the games. Officials believe most other sports with limited in-person attendance will have a live-streaming option. Details will be announced as soon as available.
- Students will get a mask break every hour, which will mean a cut in instruction time as they will be allowed to go somewhere outside of the classroom, where they can stand 6 feet apart and take off their masks for a few minutes.
“We are going to have to find ways to make the very-difficult-to-manage things manageable,” Allen said during the meeting’s debrief period following breakout groups for discussion. “Some things are going to slide a little. We have to teach the curriculum, but we also have to love our children. Our job is to chart a path to education for as many kids as we can.”
As he wrapped up the meeting, Allen learned that Abbott had announced during the day that the state might give schools more discretion on the school year as far as in-person and remote learning requirements. Austin Independent School District and Round Rock ISD have both announced their schools will offer remote learning only for the first three weeks of the year.
“All of this is probably going to change before the first day of school,” Allen said. “There’s a long time between now and August 19, but as long as we work together, everything is going to be all right.”