As Eanes ISD continues to plan for the 2020-21 school year, Superintendent Tom Leonard confirmed some form of a virtual learning platform is essential for the fall.

“I am becoming absolutely convinced that we must have a remote option in some way that is robust and solid or we are going to have some difficulties,” Leonard said during a June 9 board study session.

Mitigating the spread of the coronavirus has caused a number of challenges for EISD and districts throughout the country, from personal protective equipment to student transportation.

According to Leonard, guidance from the state requires any individual who tests positive for COVID-19 and anyone they came into contact with to be removed from campus to self-isolate for two weeks. This would include students, staff, parents or anyone who visits an EISD campus.

The necessary safety measure has already presented operational difficulties for the district.

Recently, EISD had a custodian test positive who prior to the diagnosis interacted with 16 coworkers, Leonard said, adding that consequently, 17 custodians will remain home for the next 14 days.

Furthermore, if a student exhibits flu-like symptoms on campus, they will need to be quarantined to a designated “sick area” until a parent or guardian can retrieve them from school, according to EISD General Counsel Alyson Collins.

Leonard noted that administrators cannot be sure whether these rules will still be in place by August; however, if the guidance remains, there’s a likelihood that EISD will have to periodically send groups home to quarantine.

Updated guidelines will also require modifications to the district’s transportation system. Leonard said busing will be one the largest challenges next year.

To account for social distancing guidelines, an EISD school bus will only be permitted to hold a maximum of 12 students at a time. Details were not discussed during the session, but Leonard said a transportation plan is underway.

Facing these challenges, along with several others, EISD officials are working to improve the remote learning model.

“We need to be able to move ourselves between in-person and remote based on changing parameters from the county or the state,” Leonard said.

A task force of 100 stakeholders are evaluating the remote and in-person curriculum schedule, according to Deputy Superintendent Jeff Arnet, who added that community involvement will continue to be prioritized.

Though EISD was considering a remote and in-person blended learning plan, that option has been taken off the table for the time being, Arnet said. The hybrid model was too complex when considering transportation and child care needs.

The district is leaning toward providing families and staff with a choice on whether to return to campus, officials said.

EISD recently distributed a survey to parents and staff members to examine the feasibility of this plan.
About 6,000 participants completed the survey, which was broken down into the elementary and secondary school levels.

If social distancing ordinances are still in effect by August, 27.32% of elementary school families said they would send their child to campus. 29.29% of middle school and 29.92% of high school families agreed with this statement.

Between 20%-25% of families responded that they plan to keep their child at home and continue remote learning if it is offered by EISD.

The teacher’s responses varied slightly. 39% of educators said they felt ready to return to their classrooms provided social distancing measures are put in place, 19.19% said they would remain at home and participate in remote learning, and 16.36% said they hoped remote learning would be in place for all students.

A group of parents and staff are still unsure of their plan, according to the survey. About 20.49% of parents and 25.45% of teachers said they do not know at this time what they will decide.

“We don’t need to have the percentages match up exactly,” Leonard said, adding that he believes a portion of the community will have strong feelings on remote learning and some will fall in the middle. According to Leonard, future conversations will take place on this subject.

The district will host virtual community meetings June 18 and 25 to discuss the present challenges. These dates are tentative, according to district information.

Another survey will be run from June 24-July 3 asking the community a similar round of questions.

“We need people to make a choice at that point,” Arnet said, adding that this may seem premature, but EISD needs to organize a plan for the fall.

A detailed report on the 2020-21 school year will be discussed during a July 21 board meeting.