At a July 15 special meeting of the DSISD board of trustees, more than 50 parents and community members weighed in on the district's current plans for mitigating coronavirus risk while educating students. The board did not make any decisions at the meeting, but discussed their evolving considerations while awaiting more guidance from the state level.
The meeting followed Superintendent Todd Washburn's June 10 update to the DSISD community on back to school plans. In a letter to parents, Washburn announced the district would offer full-time, 5-day-a-week options for both in-person and online learning, per requirements from the Texas Education Agency. The virtual option could be synchronous or asynchronous, giving students more flexibility in terms of pacing when studying from home, but DSISD has not yet announced a choice between these options.
TEA's ruling that districts must offer a full-time in-person option effectively ended DSISD's consideration of a hybrid option, which was favored by many of the teachers and parents who commented at the July 15 meeting.
Several teachers who wrote in July 15 said TEA's in-person requirement made them feel unsafe, and implored the board of trustees to let teachers opt to teach virtually from home on an individual basis.
"This school year will be my 15th year teaching. I’ve adapted to many changes through the years, as have all my colleagues, but I do not see how there will be time to manage both in person and online learners," DSISD teacher Lucy Martinez wrote. "Teachers are planning their wills just to report to work. That’s scary. I hope our district will develop a plan that is safe for all stakeholders. To me, that would include beginning the year with 100% remote learning."
The state has this week given districts more flexibility to begin the year with exclusively online learning, according to current guidelines. Neighboring Austin ISD has already announced it will delay classes entirely until that Sept. 8 based on a Travis County order.
Many parents agreed with Martinez' sense of caution, but others advocated for a swift start to the school year.
"The number one goal should be for this district to make progress, and that cannot be achieved from the comfort of our homes," Thomas Lingle wrote in.
According to trustee Barbara Stroud, the goal for pushing back the DSISD's start of school from its scheduled Aug. 18 date would be to prepare staff as they ready for the unprecedented.
"Nobody thinks the spread of disease is going to be better in three weeks. Why I think it’s important is it gives our teachers—who are on contract and required to come to work slightly before [students]—it gives our staff transition time to get in the building, get the training, get these new procedures, get all that in place before the kids come,” Stroud said.
Per TEA requirements, the district must confirm parents and students of their official reopening plans at least a week before its scheduled reopening. Several parents called in and asked DSISD to make the decision as soon as possible to allow time for parents to work out contingencies with employers, home internet and other concerns.
Washburn assured parents that he was determined to make plans swiftly, with a goal of offering firm plans in the next week, but that evolving guidelines from both TEA and Hays and Travis County were making it a challenge to work out details. For instance, Hays County health officials have informed him they are considering a delayed back-to-school order similar to Travis County's.
“This situation continues to evolve on a daily basis not only day by day but hour by hour," Washburn said.
In the meantime, the superintendent said he wants to gather community feedback through a new survey, the most recent one having been conducted at the close of the 2019-20 school year, when Hays County only had 385 active cases of coronavirus, versus the current over 2,000. At that time, 60% of surveyed parents said they wished to send their students to school in person.