Plano ISD plans to offer a temporary, parent-led virtual option for students too young to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The asynchronous virtual learning option will be available for students in pre-K through sixth grade from Aug. 16-Sept. 3. Parents interested in the option must register by 11:59 p.m on Aug. 11, according to an Aug. 9 email to parents from the district.
“Our primary model of instruction is still face-to-face,” PISD Superintendent Sara Bonser said in an interview with Community Impact Newspaper. “But for those parents who might be able to provide more support to their children at home, we wanted to provide that [virtual] option but still preserve the face-to-face learning environment to the greatest degree possible, which I think we've done with this model.”
The district’s email said the virtual option is being offered in response to concerns from the community about “the latest trends associated with the delta variant” of the virus. Nearly all of the speakers during the public comment portion of the Aug. 3 PISD board meeting requested more stringent health and safety protocols than were ultimately approved for the upcoming school year.
Bonser said the decision to offer the virtual option came after participating in an Aug. 5 call with the Texas Education Agency that yielded no solutions or guidance for the district in navigating the latest rise in COVID-19 cases.
“We went back to the drawing board to say, ‘What could we do in order to be compassionate to our parents where a vaccine is not yet available,’” Bonser said.
Students who take part in the virtual option will remain enrolled at their home campus and will keep their assigned teacher, Bonser said. They will be marked with an “excused virtual absence” for each day of remote learning, according to the email.
Instruction and assignments will not be delivered by campus teachers, the email stated. Instead, a select team of PISD teachers will serve as virtual content creators at each grade level. They will work with the district’s curriculum team to create and post content for students enrolled in the virtual option.
“I want [virtual learners] to be using Plano ISD curriculum and resources because we know how good those are,” Bonser said. “And [we know] how important it is for the continuity of learning for our kids to be able to have good resources at home and then come back to us and lose as little ground as absolutely possible. We're trying to do everything we can to support our students, keep them enrolled and then get them back to us right on target as soon as we can.”
Other than compensating the teachers who served as virtual content creators, Bonser said the most significant cost associated with the temporary virtual option will be in relation to the district’s funding from the state.
“The biggest cost to the district is that we will sacrifice average daily attendance [funding from the state] for anyone opting into the program for however many days that ends up being,” she said.
Parents who opt for virtual learning will be responsible for watching videos and reading content to ensure students understand learning expectations, according to the email.
“If a family does not have a device or internet access, the district will provide that,” Bonser said, noting parents can let the district know about any technology needs on the program's enrollment form.
Students may not opt into the virtual learning option once the selection period ends Aug. 11. However, families who select the virtual learning mode can return their student to in-person learning at any point by notifying their child’s campus, according to the email.
While the virtual option is scheduled to only last through Sept. 3, Bonser said it could go longer based on the progression of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With this plan in place, we feel like we have a viable option if we needed to extend [the virtual offering],” Bonser said. “We're going to get to Labor Day weekend and then ... we'll figure out what happens next. A lot can happen in two weeks—we've seen that in the last two weeks.”
Plano ISD’s decision comes on the heels of a similar move by Frisco ISD, which announced a temporary virtual option on Aug. 3. FISD’s temporary online learning option will be offered during the first nine weeks of school for students in Early Childhood programs through sixth grade.
The first day of school for PISD is Aug. 11.