Leander ISD officials offer phased-in, in-person learning plan recommendation to school board

Leander ISD officials offer a phased-in, in-person learning plan recommendation to the school board. (Screenshot courtesy Leander ISD)
Leander ISD officials offer a phased-in, in-person learning plan recommendation to the school board. (Screenshot courtesy Leander ISD)

Leander ISD officials offer a phased-in, in-person learning plan recommendation to the school board. (Screenshot courtesy Leander ISD)

The Leander ISD board of trustees was presented with an in-person, phased-in learning plan to wean the district off remote learning during its Aug. 20 agenda review meeting.

Per Texas Education Agency guidelines, districts can start the school year virtually for the first four week plus an additional four weeks pending board approval, LISD Area Superintendent Devin Padavil said. Without board approval, the district would have to be ready to accept any student who wishes to return to campus Sept. 8.

This waiver would allow the district to extend the time it is required to offer in-person learning for all students who want it to Oct. 4, Padavil said.

The plan would be broken down into three phases that allow the district to welcome select number of students back to campus over time rather than the entire student body at one time.

“This will also help us give some time to our campus leaders to refine systems and to assess and monitor the safety and health of our students and staff,” said Kimberly Waltmon, Canyon Ridge Middle School principal.

LISD Superintendent Bruce Gearing said while, if accepted by the board, this would be the reopening plan the district would follow, it could change depending on spikes in confirmed cases or health authority or state guideline alterations.

“We want to do this in a way that is slow and steady so that we can stay open for the longest time possible,” Gearing said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers a seven-day average positive rate—or the rate at which coronavirus tests return positive—over 5% a hot spot. Both Travis and Williamson counties currently report rates over 10%, Padavil said.

Students who do not wish to return to in-person classes can remain virtual during this process and all the way through May, Gearing said.

Here is the proposed plan:

Phase 1: Sept. 8-18

  • students served in special education

  • prekindergarten, kindergarten, first, sixth and ninth grades

  • those with no internet access

  • children of staff members

Phase 2: Sept. 21-25

  • All Phase 1 students plus second, seventh and 10th grades

Phase 3: Sept. 28-Oct. 2

  • All Phase 1 and 2 students plus third, eighth and 11th grades

Oct. 4

  • Fourth, fifth and 12th grades

Gearing said this plan would not be able to accommodate the students of essential workers to start earlier than assigned; however, there are options through the YMCA.

“We know that it is critically important for our student’s mental health and well-being, for their emotional health and well-being, for their physical health and well-being and also for their academic health and well-being to be in person,” Gearing said. “[We are] striving to be in back in person as much as we can be while acknowledging the fact that we are in a global pandemic that we have to protect the health and well-being of all the individuals involved.”

LISD officials added that with virtual and in-person classes running simultaneously, teachers will be required to teach both types of learning modules at the same time. Teachers will also be required to go back to their campuses on Sept. 8 even if their grades remained virtual, Gearing said.

Several teachers spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting objecting to the district’s handling of their health concerns.

Many of the teachers said they did not feel safe in returning to campus and opposed the idea that they would be forced to return to campus in September even if they are high-risk or have health concerns. Others were concerned on their ability to teach both in-person and virtual classes simultaneously at a standard they wished to do so and believed their students deserve.

“Of course we all prefer in-person learning, but this is the safest option right now,” LISD teacher Sarah Alarcon said of remote learning. “We must prioritize people’s lives. ... I am a teacher, not a hero. I want to teach, not sacrifice my life at work.”

Teachers also spoke on their frustration that the district, while asking families and students what kind of learning they preferred, neglected to ask teachers what kind of teaching they preferred.

When pushed further on this by the board, Gearing said it is a difficult question to ask as regardless of teacher’s desires, the district would be obligated to provide an education to its students.

“As our in-person learning gets closer, I feel disheartened and I feel like my life isn’t valued,” LISD teacher Alexis Huddleston said. “Many feel called to this profession, but we do not feel we are called to die as other duties as assigned.”

The board will vote on the item during its Aug. 27 meeting.