The key to the upcoming school year, both planning for it and making it happen, is to be ready for change.
“Our plan is built around being nimble and flexible,” Marble Falls Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Chris Allen told the board of trustees during its regular meeting Monday, July 20.
Those qualities will be needed throughout the school year, not just in the beginning, he added.
Allen briefed the board on how district leadership and staff are preparing campuses to reopen August 19 after being closed since Spring Break due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year will be like no previous year.
Allen said the district will unveil plans for the 2020-21 academic year no later than August 3. He and administrators are using feedback from parents, staff, and board members.
Currently, the Texas Education Agency is requiring public school districts offer both in-person and remote-learning options. The TEA did announce July 17 that it would allow school districts to offer remote learning only for the first four weeks based on local COVID-19 situations. A district could extend it another four weeks with TEA approval.
However, Allen pointed out, that phase-in requires districts provide an in-person option for students without internet access at home.
Allen invited Burnet County Local Health Authority Dr. Jules Madrigal to the board meeting to give an update on COVID-19 in the county.
“Currently, we’re at a spike (in cases),” she told the board. But, she added, the new daily case count has slowed though “we’re still having way more cases than we did at the beginning.”
Madrigal told the board that children seem to be less susceptible to contracting the disease, though they can still transmit the virus to others. It comes down to weighing all of the risks and making the best decisions possible with the information available.
“Right now, where we are, it’s doable,” said Madrigal about reopening schools.
That is as long as people are vigilant in slowing the spread of the virus by wearing face coverings, washing or sanitizing hands, social distancing, and staying home when sick.
MFISD is also working on plans to deep clean classrooms and common spaces throughout the year.
One of the most debated topics during this pandemic, Allen pointed out, has been face coverings. He asked Madrigal to share her expert knowledge.
“Masks, I think now, have been proven to make a difference,” Madrigal said.
On July 2, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order requiring those ages 10 and older to wear a face covering — with some exceptions — while in public spaces. The order applies to schools as well.
Madrigal pointed out that students should wear face coverings to protect those around them, particularly teachers, school staff, and other adults. While children can get COVID-19, Madrigal said most are not in danger of suffering from health complications like adults, particularly older adults or those with underlying conditions.
She added that face coverings are safe, pointing out that she and her medical staff wear them throughout the day.
MFISD is also looking at ways to limit students gathering in larger groups during the school day, including developing hallway traffic-flow patterns, cutting out morning assemblies, changing lunch settings and possibly adding more outdoor seating, and spacing out students in larger classes such as choir.
The district is also aware that every family is unique and faces their own issues and challenges. Feedback from parents, Allen said, runs the gamut from those who want campuses to reopen as they normally would to those who think the district should hold off on in-person learning.
He understands it is a difficult and emotional time for parents and staff, but he is proud of the way the community has responded by attending recent parent and staff input meetings and giving feedback.
“Our community has been just great,” he said. “They’ve asked good questions and asked questions in ways that makes us think through things. Folk have shown up and been part of the conversation. We love this community. We love the people individually and as a community.”
Allen will update the board of trustees at a July 31 meeting before publicizing the district’s plan on or before August 3.
“Flexibility is built into the plans,” he added.