A look at Pflugerville ISD's evolving in-person learning plans

Pflugerville ISD’s board of trustees will host a meeting at 6 p.m. Aug. 27 to further deliberate a return to on-campus learning. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Pflugerville ISD’s board of trustees will host a meeting at 6 p.m. Aug. 27 to further deliberate a return to on-campus learning. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Pflugerville ISD’s board of trustees will host a meeting at 6 p.m. Aug. 27 to further deliberate a return to on-campus learning. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

As schools throughout Central Texas navigate the coronavirus pandemic, Pflugerville ISD is among a number that opted to begin the 2020-21 academic year 100% virtually. Now, the board of trustees and school leadership are weighing when to offer an option for in-person education this fall.

PfISD’s board of trustees will host a meeting at 6 p.m. Aug. 27 to further deliberate a return to on-campus learning. Ahead of the meeting, here is a look at the evolution of the district’s fall plans, as well as thoughts and concerns provided by community members regarding on-campus teaching.

Texas Education Agency releases guidance

Under TEA guidance released July 17, school districts were granted the ability to limit instruction to virtual only for the first four weeks of the academic year.

After the first four weeks, “a school system can continue to limit access to on-campus instruction for an additional four weeks, if needed, with a board-approved waiver request to TEA,” per the TEA guidelines.

Exceptions to the TEA guidelines include students in need of reliable internet access or devices to complete their coursework. In the case of a student requiring on-campus instruction, the TEA guidelines denote those students “will still be entitled to on-campus instruction every day during this [additional four weeks] transition period.”

Fall semester begins

Pflugerville ISD initially began the fall semester with a 100% online curriculum Aug. 13 with the option to return to in-person classes on Sept. 8. This represents an initial three-week virtual learning period.

Consideration of extended virtual learning

At an Aug. 20 board meeting, Superintendent Douglas Killian said he would submit a waiver to the TEA to extend virtual learning to a full four weeks. The extension would postpone the return of PfISD’s on-campus instruction from Sept. 8 to Sept. 11.

More than 60 parents, teachers and community members addressed the board Aug. 20, largely opposed to resuming on-campus instruction in September. Speakers cited safety concerns for both district teachers and students and pointed to area schools opting for eight weeks of virtual learning, such as Manor ISD.

Manor ISD’s board of trustees voted Aug. 3 to extend its online curriculum from Sept. 14 to Oct. 12. The school district will now operate virtually from Aug. 17 through Oct. 12 unless otherwise ordered by local, state and federal mandates.

Superintendent outlines options

Killian sent an email to district parents Aug. 25, outlining his planned submission for the TEA waiver. His proposal would change the academic calendar slightly, adding a professional development day for Sept. 11 and allowing students who opted for in-person learning to return to campus Sept. 14.

“The TEA waiver will allow PfISD to utilize an additional four weeks to serve as an extended transition period and reduce the percentage of students on our campuses,” Killian wrote in the email.

Now, the board is expected to vote Aug. 27 on two new elements to the fall semester: resuming optional on-campus instruction on Monday, Sept. 14, and submitting a 40% campus hybrid instruction waiver for students enrolled in grades 9-12.

The hybrid on-campus model, for students who opt into it, “requires students to be on campus for at least 40% of the days” during PfISD’s nine-week grading period. Additional information surrounding the hybrid model, including its potential start date, is expected to be delivered to the board Aug. 27.

Navigating on-campus instruction

TEA guidelines stipulate in-person learning “must be offered for all grades served by the campus every day for every student” who has opted for on-campus instruction.

TEA representatives confirmed in an Aug. 27 email to Community Impact Newspaper that the following exceptions can be made:

  • 100% remote instruction provided by a full-time virtual campus operating under the Texas Virtual School Network

  • 100% remote instruction provided due to the prohibition of on-campus instruction “by an order issued by an entity, other than an [local education agency], authorized to issue such an order under state law

  • virtual-only instruction provided when a district closes a campus due to a confirmed COVID-19 case on campus

  • 100% virtual instruction during a start-of-school transition, per TEA:

    • “This period can occur up through the first four weeks of the school year, with the option of extending four additional weeks by vote of the school board. ... During this transition period, LEAs [local education agencies] can, if they choose to do so locally, limit access to on-campus instruction to facilitate a safe, effective return to on-campus instruction for students, teachers, and staff.”

    • This exception denotes students unable to participate in e-learning due to a lack of internet access or device are required to have access to on-campus instruction during this time.

  • virtual instruction for a group of students as part of a high school hybrid plan:

    • “Specifically, for students in grades 9-12, school systems may establish a less-than-daily on campus attendance option to reduce the number of individuals on a campus at any one time and increase the total number of students served in an on-campus setting in the LEA,” the TEA guidelines read.

Addressing digital learning needs

During the 2019-20 academic year, 26,400 students were enrolled at PfISD, according to TEA’s student programs and special populations report. Of the total enrollment, 13,344 students were classified as economically disadvantaged, equivalent to 50.55% of total students.

At the board’s Aug. 20 meeting, district officials reported 15,000 technology devices had been distributed to students for the fall semester. Officials did not provide information as to how many students, if any, still required technology devices or Internet access.

A request for comment from PfISD’s communications department regarding the waiver and technology access has not been answered as of the time of publication.