‘A year like we’ve never seen’: Plano ISD prepares for combination of in-person, remote learning

Superintendent Sara Bonser laid out several learning options Plano ISD is preparing to provide when school returns in the fall. (Courtesy Fotolia)
Superintendent Sara Bonser laid out several learning options Plano ISD is preparing to provide when school returns in the fall. (Courtesy Fotolia)

Superintendent Sara Bonser laid out several learning options Plano ISD is preparing to provide when school returns in the fall. (Courtesy Fotolia)

Plano ISD is preparing two simultaneous educational tracks for the fall that will each cover the same curriculum after the Texas Education Agency provided additional guidance this week on the upcoming semester.

Superintendent Sara Bonser told trustees June 23 that parents will have the option to allow their kids to continue remote learning even as the district prepares for a return to classrooms under Texas Education Agency guidelines.

The district will not be able to require a student to stay home under the new state guidelines, Bonser said. The state has yet to offer final guidance to districts on what in-person instruction and public health measures must look like during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath told superintendents around the state that the agency would provide clarity on these safety measures closer to the fall semester as more information on the virus is known, Bonser said.

“What that tells me is that right now we cannot wait on TEA to continue to move our plans forward,” Bonser said.

The district is continuing to develop its detailed plan on how to enforce social distancing and other safety measures in the classroom, Bonser said. It was unclear whether districts around the state would be empowered to require students to wear masks, she said, but Plano ISD is seeking further clarification on this point.

School board President Tammy Richards said the district was preparing for “a year like we’ve never seen” as it weighed the various options.

“It’s disappointing that there wasn’t more direction given” by the state, she said.

In the meantime, the district will offer a 100% remote learning option for students whose families are not ready for them to return to the classroom.

These remote learning options would be more robust than what was offered in the spring, Assistant Superintendent for Academic Services Katrina Hasley said.

Teachers would design video instruction plans and interact with remote students using the same curriculum that is used in the main classrooms, Hasley told trustees. There would also be live instruction sessions each day in which remote students would participate with a teacher and other remote students.

In addition to the 100% remote learning option, Plano ISD is preparing for the possibility that worsening coronavirus numbers could force schools to close again, Hasley said. If this happens, the district would be ready to go fully remote as it did in the spring semester earlier this year.

A third option, which had been all but ruled out prior to the meeting, would have allowed for a hybrid approach—one where some students would be able to attend class in person but spend part of the time in remote learning. As district officials explored this option, it became clear they did not have enough staff to pull it off, Bonser said.

The district is moving forward with its originally approved calendar, with a start date of Aug. 12 for the 2020-21 school year. This decision was made after holding some discussion to amend the calendar in a way that would shorten the summer. Officials felt it was important to minimize the disruption and allow children a full break, Bonser said.

More than half of Plano ISD parents who responded to a recent district survey said they would not be ready for their children to return to school if given the option a few weeks ago, according to Theresa Williams, the district’s chief operating officer.

Bonser said Plano ISD also learned this week that districts would have access to funding for both in-person and remote students next school year. Funding is typically determined by average daily attendance in-person.

Corrections: An earlier version of this report misstated which semester the remote-learning curriculum in the fall would be more robust than. It would be more robust than what was offered in the spring, Hasley said. The earlier version of the report also misstated the nature of the live instruction sessions for remote students. Only remote students would participate in these live sessions as part of the fully remote learning program.
By Daniel Houston
Daniel Houston covers Plano city government, transportation, business and education for Community Impact Newspaper. A Fort Worth native and Baylor University graduate, Daniel reported previously for The Associated Press in Oklahoma City and The Dallas Morning News.


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