Following districtwide surveys, staff meetings and virtual community forums, Eanes ISD announced an extensive campus reopening plan during a June 23 meeting. Families can likely expect several procedural changes for the 2020-21 school year, including required face masks, daily health screenings and social distancing measures.
The plan, referred to as Ready to Re-Engage, or R2R, was drafted utilizing input from four task forces composed of 70 teachers, administrators, staff and parents. A detailed outline of the plan can be found on EISD's newly launched webpage.
At this time, these procedural decisions are tentative and subject to change based on district decisions or state guidelines.
Amid the possibility of evolving health requirements, the R2R plan was designed to navigate any potential changes, according to Superintendent Tom Leonard. The plan was also designed to allow individuals to shift from in-person to remote learning if necessary.
A new learning environment
One major policy change students and staff can expect is the requirement of face masks when developmentally appropriate, an idea that has previously been rejected by community members.
“Face coverings will likely be mandated,” Deputy Superintendent Jeff Arnett said. “Take that word ‘likely’ to mean, you can count on it.”
Several parents disputed the potential use of face coverings during the meeting’s open forum section, with some parents opting for the use of clear face shields as opposed to masks. Parent Pilar Taylor submitted a comment outlining the benefits of shields.
“I feel this will allow for safety, ease of breathing, ability to read faces and expressions, audibility of the speaker and generally a more comforting environment for the kids,” Taylor said.
In addition to face masks, EISD will implement social distancing restrictions, according to Arnett, who said this practice will limit campus capacity. In-person classrooms will accommodate 10 students on average and could potentially be moved to larger spaces such as cafeterias or gymnasiums.
Reduced occupancy rates can also be anticipated for school buses and restrooms, Chief Operations Officer Jeremy Trimble said. According to EISD information, each bus will likely hold 12 students, and routine cleaning will become more frequent.
Disinfection efforts will be ramped up for all district facilities, per guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as state agencies. Certain amenities, such as the elementary school playscapes, will not be available. Trimble noted entry points, deliveries and visitors will be significantly minimized.
EISD is still determining the feasibility of serving lunch in either a classroom or cafeteria setting, according to Trimble.
As an added safety measure, all students and staff on campus will undergo daily health screenings conducted by district nurses.
In order to determine who will be eligible to return to campus, several criteria are being considered. Families and staff will be asked to complete applications for re-entry, which will run from June 29-July 8, according to Executive Director of Special Education Molly May.
These applications will be timestamped upon submittal, and a waiting list will be established for individuals seeking in-person classes, May said.
Certain students may receive priority for in-person learning. Those groups will include economically disadvantaged students, students with significant academic gaps and students who have challenges with virtual learning.
Students from families experiencing child care difficulties may also fall into the priority category, among several other groups.
Criteria have also been identified for staff including access to reliable internet connection and child care availability. Staff who may fall into the COVID-19 high-risk category may opt for virtual teaching.
Remote learning schedules and grading procedures
Those engaging in remote learning can anticipate a different program than what was administered in the spring. The new learning plan was designed for a full school day of instructional time and will likely reflect a student’s traditional schedule.
EISD will also shift to its traditional grading system rather than continue the temporary plan adopted in the spring amid the outbreak, said Dianne Carter, West Ridge Middle School principal.
Modifications may be required regarding how teachers conduct student assessments. Furthermore, academic integrity will be emphasized by teachers, according to Carter.
“Various options will be considered for assessment,” Carter said. “Some may be open-book assessments, portfolio, self-assessment. ...”
Though several questions arose, the board of trustees thanked the district for its continued work amid the unprecedented health crisis.
Board President Jennifer Champagne stressed the importance of equitable learning experiences for students whether they engage in remote or in-person classes.
Champagne also noted the complications of implementing this plan without additional full-time or equivalent staff members.
The conversation surrounding these concerns is ongoing, according to Leonard, who will conduct a secondary community meeting June 24.
“We’re going to acknowledge upfront [the R2R plan] is far from perfect,” Arnett said. “We admit that we’re being vulnerable here in sharing it with you.”
The plan may be a work in progress, but the development was undoubtedly a collaborative community effort, according to Arnett.
Leonard concluded the meeting with a simple statement of, “We promise you we will do our best.”