Clear Creek ISD officials updated the community on the district’s reopening plans during a July 9 livestream, further defining health and safety regulations and giving details about the Clear Connections distance learning program—all the while reminding parents that the situation is constantly in flux.

Superintendent Greg Smith, who was joined by Deputy Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Steven Ebell and Coordinator of Health Services Marina Keeton, asked the community for patience and support during the livestream as administrators navigate changing state guidelines.

“It’s messy out there right now, and there’s information that’s changing on a daily basis,” he said.

The Texas Education Agency issued new guidelines for the 2020-21 school year July 7, including regulations related to face masks and procedures for confirmed and suspected cases of COVID-19. Smith said parents must carefully discuss these changes with their children well before the start of the school year in a way that is positive and encouraging.

He acknowledged that parents have numerous concerns about what their child’s education will look like come Aug. 18, and reminded the community that “flexibility is our friend” as the district navigates new health and safety procedures for its 42,000 students.

“My hope is that we all do this well, and we do it right, so that we can pull back on some of these health restrictions as the weeks and months progress,” he said.

Here are four major updates to know about CCISD’s reopening.

Masks will be required “as developmentally appropriate”

Students, staff and visitors will wear face coverings when physical distancing of six feet is not possible, as mandated by the TEA on July 7. Classroom sizes and student-teacher ratios will remain the same, and the facilities department is examining and maximizing space in every square inch of each campus building, Smith said.

“While I would love to reduce the size of the classrooms, we simply do not have enough teachers, physical classrooms or funding,” he said.

Teachers can choose what type of face covering to wear at their own discretion, Ebell said.

“It really depends on what the teacher feels most comfortable doing,” he said. “Face masks and face shields are options for teachers.”

TEA guidelines require Texas’s schools to comply with the governor's orders regarding masks and face coverings. The guidelines also state that districts can require face coverings for students when “developmentally appropriate,” which Ebell defined as students who can comprehend the expectation of wearing a face covering and be taught how to properly do so. Keeton encouraged parents to help their students get used to masks before coming back to school.

CCISD students of all ages will need to wear masks during transition times, including arrival, dismissal and bell changes. Administrators also encouraged parents to transport their children to and from school if possible, because students on buses will be required to wear masks for the duration of the ride.

The district will create space and time during the day for students to responsibly remove face coverings, Smith said, so that no one has to keep the covering on for seven to eight hours in a day.

Clear Connections students will soon be able to enroll in classes

The district is offering entirely online learning through its Clear Connections platform for students or families uncomfortable with brick-and-mortar education. Unlike how remote learning was conducted in the spring, Smith said the program is designed to keep students on a daily schedule with structured hours.

The program’s interest form opens July 13 for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Course selection begins July 15. Extracurricular activities, including band and orchestra, will be offered through Clear Connections at the student’s home campus. Dual language and e-STEM programs will not be offered through Clear Connections, Ebell said.

While families have until Aug. 4 to make a final decision about remote or in-person learning, administrators encouraged making a decision by July 20.

“I think overall, we want to provide some level of normalcy to our children, and this is important,” Smith said. “We need our children back with us, as well as their friends, even if it is six feet apart or through a web camera.”

A hybrid education model, where students would attend school only on certain days, would not be fully funded by the TEA, Smith said. Prior to July 7, hybrid models would receive no TEA funding, but the new guidelines gave additional context for schools considering this model.

It is unclear whether the district will consider a hybrid option, but Smith expressed concerns about the quality of a hybrid education.

“There’s still a question of disconnection,” he said about the efficacy of a hybrid model.

The district will hold three separate livestream events to address questions about gifted and talented programming, special education and Clear Connections on July 15.

Meal times will be significantly different

While breakfast and lunch will still be available, meals will be in grab-and-go form only, and students will be expected to adhere to social distancing regulations during meal times, administrators said. Parents can also choose to send their kids to school with meals from home.

However, any visitors to CCISD campuses will not be allowed to eat a meal with students or staff, and parents will not be permitted to drop off food for classroom parties.

Nurses will be actively involved in mitigating the spread of COVID-19

Parents will be required to assess their kids’ physical health daily, which the district is assisting with by sending coronavirus symptom assessment fridge magnets to all its families, administrators said.

Keeton encouraged students, staff and parents to maintain social distancing as much as possible, as the practice greatly reduces the chance of disease transmission through contact. If a student does show coronavirus symptoms while at school, they will be referred to a nurse.

If there is concern for COVID-19 infection once a student sees a nurse, the student will be isolated and a parent contacted for immediate pickup, per TEA guidelines. People who were in close contact with that student will be notified, and cleaning measures will be implemented, Keeton said.

CCISD has had isolated reports of students or staff testing positive for COVID-19, said the district’s chief communications officer Elaina Polsen in a July 2 email to Community Impact Newspaper.

The district developed a COVID-19 Standard Response Protocol with five distinct stages of operations. Smith, Keeton and a newly-appointed COVID-19 response coordinator will closely monitor health reports at each campus and support facility, according to a July 8 media release.

The team will move a school or support facility to the appropriate level and communicate those protocol measures to the public if necessary, and parents and staff will receive a daily report to inform them of any changes to the school’s operating stage, per the release. While the protocols provide district leadership with guidance on how to respond, the release said the district will always err on the side of caution and may take additional steps in any one stage.