Superintendents from several Bay Area school districts, including Clear Creek ISD and Friendswood ISD, shared their reopening plans and answered questions from community members during an Aug. 12 webinar.
CCISD Superintendent Greg Smith said district leaders and their boards of trustees have been put in a difficult situation amid the pandemic, attempting to distill and use information from federal, state and local entities to inform their decisions.
“This is not going to be perfect by any stretch of the imagination,” he said of the return to school.
School start dates among the districts range from Aug. 18-26, leaders said. The 53,000 students in Pasadena ISD will return to school fully remote Aug. 18 with the 35% of its students who chose in-person learning returning to campuses Sept. 8, Superintendent DeeAnn Powell said. In La Porte ISD, the district is abiding by the start date of Aug. 19 that it set in the spring; the 51% of students who chose in-person learning will return to campuses Sept. 5. La Porte ISD is still working on a phase-in plan for the start of in-person instruction, Superintendent Walter Jackson said during the webinar, which was hosted by Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership.
Dickinson ISD’s phase-in plan is similar to that of CCISD: All 11,400 students will begin online Aug. 24 with the pre-K, kindergarten and some special education students who chose in-person instruction returning to campuses Aug. 31. The rest of the students learning in person—53%—will return Sept. 14, Superintendent Carla Voelkel said.
Friendswood ISD changed its start date from Aug. 19 to Aug. 26, and the district’s plan also involves transitioning with in-person pre-K and special education learners. These students will return to campus Aug. 26, while all others start virtually. Both elementary and secondary students who chose in-person instruction will return to campuses at 50% capacity that week, and starting Aug. 31, all in-person students will be in physical classrooms.
Three in every 4 FISD students chose in-person instruction for 2020-21, Superintendent Thad Royer said. Despite the fact most students will not be using the virtual learning platform, the district is investing significant time into refining and improving online education tools so they can be used in the future, Royer said.
“Our focus has really been on building a virtual program that isn't just a one-year deal,” he said. “We’re hoping for it to be a learning experience.”
In CCISD, Smith said the remote learning experience will be markedly different from how it was in the spring. Instead of having students complete work on their own schedule, students will be in a virtual classroom, engaging with their teachers in real time during that class period through the district’s new Clear Connections platform.
The district has a 238-page booklet of its COVID-19-related standard operating procedures, which employees are being walked through, he said.
“We have a lot of ground to cover, [but] we’re excited," Smith said.
Inevitably, Smith added, there will be coronavirus outbreaks within every school district in the Bay Area. Deep-cleaning procedures on campuses will be imperative in keeping the community healthy, he said.
The district will concern itself with student academic performance but will prioritize the social and emotional health of its students over grades and try to “reach the hearts before the heads,” Smith said.
Royer echoed that sentiment when asked about the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Performance, adding the 6,200-student district will not center its teaching around the standardized tests. While the testing requirements were waived for the 2019-20 school year amid the pandemic, they will return for the upcoming school year, according to the latest Texas Education Agency guidance.
FISD faculty and staff have engaged in town halls with the community to help share information about new safety procedures and answer parent questions, Royer said. Like Smith, he emphasized the district will provide a more authentic learning experience for its students this fall.
“Whatever the numbers are gonna be ... it’s going to be important for it to not be what it was,” he said in reference to online education. “We cannot have a gap in our society for our lack of being able to provide.”