Waldrip announced July 16 that FISD would start the first three weeks of the fall in an all-virtual learning environment due to increased spread of the coronavirus and to guidance by local health authorities. After those three weeks, based on preferences indicated in a recent commitment form, students will participate either in an all-online Virtual Academy or in face-to-face instruction.
At a July 23 special board meeting, Waldrip said tackling both in-person and all-virtual learning will be “extremely different” from what the FISD’s educators have encountered.
“I know all teachers have taught in person before, but not in person like this,” Waldrip said at the meeting.
Waldrip said starting the fall virtually will allow for planning for several measures, such as classroom setup and management and procedures for bathrooms, water breaks and lunch.
Training new teachers in face-to-face instruction and for the Virtual Academy will be important in the start to the fall, Waldrip said. Around 200 first-year teachers have been hired for the 2020-21 school year, he said.
The virtual start will help with planning the district’s master schedule, Waldrip said. The Texas Education Agency’s guidelines allowing parents to choose their child’s preferred learning environment created a smaller window for schedule planning within FISD, he said.
“Parents are able to choose not only settings but courses up to two weeks before school starts,” Waldrip said. “It is impossible for our counselors and our administrative teams to get a master schedule set so that students are placed where they need to be.”
Waldrip said pushing the start date for the 2020-21 school year was an option, but he said doing so would extend the school year into next summer.
“Delaying the school year three weeks does not let us take three weeks off the school year,” he said.
Students who opt into face-to-face learning will attend schools beginning Sept. 3. But Waldrip said instances of a campus closing for several days will be likely, and students will have to return to an all-virtual environment.
In these instances, campuses will be closed for disinfecting while the district does COVID-19 contact reviews.
“It will, as badly as I hate to say it, probably occur at every campus at one time or another this year,” Waldrip said. “We have to be prepared to engage in virtual learning at a very high level of fidelity so that we can deliver instruction appropriately and effectively to our students.”
FISD Board President Chad Rudy said it is the district’s priority to get back to face-to-face instruction as soon as possible.
“The TEA’s preference and our local health officials prefer that the districts open up in a virtual-only environment as a transition into in-person learning,” Rudy said at the meeting.