Masks, online options discussed as part of changing education picture
As coronavirus cases rise across Texas, Fredericksburg Independent School District’s Board of Trustees on Monday talked about what school is going to look like this fall.
Supt. Dr. Jeffrey Brasher said while remote-only learning is an option, students who choose that will not be able to participate in University Interscholastic League-sanctioned sports.
“As of now, the governor said we’re starting school on Aug. 17,” Brasher said.
Board member Kelly DiCuffa asked why the decision was made to not allow UIL sports participation for remote-learning students.
Board President Dr. Lance Love, MD, answered from a medical standpoint, it would only make sense for a student not to participate if he or she opted out of in-person learning.
“If you’re keeping them home for education, why would you choose to send them to football practice with 110 other kids in close contact?” he asked.
In a news release laying out new guidelines for reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic, Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath said the focus of these guidelines is on the health and safety of students, teachers and staff.
“The guidance laid out (on July 7) will provide flexibility to both parents and districts to make decisions based on the ever-changing conditions of the public health crisis,” Morath said.
Brasher said the district’s focus now is to open school while ensuring the safety and security of students and staff.
The state will require districts to have daily on-campus learning available for parents who feel comfortable sending students back to school.
In an effort to keep coronavirus out of schools, districts are required to screen visitors, staff, teachers and students daily before entering a campus.
If Gov. Greg Abbott’s most recent executive order is still in place, then masks will be required in school buildings, with certain exceptions. Schools must also follow any new executive orders issued by Abbott.
Brasher said the district has masks available for those who need one.
If parents do not wish to send their children back to school, they will have the option to choose remote learning. Students will be required to continue with whichever type of learning method they choose for the first nine weeks.
Board vice president Natalie Bowman asked about how social distancing would be possible in the classroom. Brasher said it will pose a challenge.
“Schools are not built to social distance,” Brasher said, noting they’re built for teamwork and collaboration.
He added there will be times where social distancing is possible, but in places like buses and some classrooms, it will be difficult. That’s why students will constantly be health screened and required to wear masks. Hand sanitizer will also be readily available.
Brasher also noted remote learning will not be the same as it was in the spring.
“It’s important for parents to know that when you choose remote learning, then your child is going to be held to the same standards,” he said, speaking about testing standards, participation and the 90% attendance rule.
Bowman offered the decision of assigning the most health-vulnerable teachers to online instruction.
Brasher said that has been part of his discussion with administrators.
To help deliver remote instruction, the state will offer free online learning tools aligned with Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. Teacher training will also be provided at no cost to districts.
Robyn Derington, the district’s new assistant superintendent of Curriculum & Instruction, has been working to collaborate with principals, teachers, staff and community members for input on a new instructional plan.
“We want to make sure that our plan is going to meet the needs of our kids,” she said.
Brasher said a plan for the fall will go live on July 24.
Trustee Mark Cornett hopes FISD’s plan is consistent with other districts in the region. He also wanted a communication plan for any unforeseen changes.
“It’s better to communicate up front when we go from plan A to plan B, everyone knows it’s coming,” he said.
DiCuffa agreed and said a communication plan with parents should also be in place for when a student tests positive.
Brasher said the district plans to have a positive test communicated to parents as soon as possible, but noted several potential challenges.
“Sometimes information flows kind of slow,” Brasher said. “There may be a COVID case, but we may not even hear about until two days later. Or someone might not even test.”
The TEA guidelines state parents don’t have to make a decision about in-person learning until more than two weeks in advance, giving them a chance to review the latest public health information. Brasher said a form will be made available in the coming weeks.
Districts will be allowed to establish a phased-in return to on-campus instruction, but only for the first three weeks of the school year.
Right now, Brasher said that is not the school’s plan.
To help districts start strong, TEA is providing additional resources. For example, districts can be reimbursed for extra COVID-19-related expenses from the 2019-2020 school year.
School systems around Texas will also be provided with tens of millions of Personal Protective Equipment at no cost to schools.
The school board also:
• Approved Cornett’s endorsement of Mary Jane Hetrick for the Texas Association of School Board’s Board of Directors by a 6-1 vote. Hetrick is a board member for Dripping Springs ISD. According to DSISD’s website, she’s worked as the women’s sports information director for University of Texas Permian Basin in the past, as well as scholarship coordinator for the University of Texas at Brownsville. She was also an adjunct professor for Auburn University at Montgomery and Troy University.
DiCuffa was in opposition, as she had never met Hetrick.
• Approved the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS) calendar and administrators.
The goal setting and evaluation calendar begins with a New Teacher Orientation Window on Aug. 3-4. T-TESS Teacher Goal Setting and Professional Development forms are due Sept. 28.
Formal observations begin Sept. 29. If a new teacher wasn’t trained from Aug. 3-14, then their observations start three weeks after training.