Cy-Fair ISD announces plans to delay start of 2020-21 school year

Students respond to health screenings during strength and conditioning camps in June. (Courtesy Cy-Fair ISD)
Students respond to health screenings during strength and conditioning camps in June. (Courtesy Cy-Fair ISD)

Students respond to health screenings during strength and conditioning camps in June. (Courtesy Cy-Fair ISD)

During Cy-Fair ISD’s second special-called meeting of the month on July 21, the board unanimously voted to postpone the start of the 2020-21 school year from Aug. 24 to Sept. 8.

This move also pushes the last day of student instruction back from May 27 to June 3.

While parents, grandparents and teachers shared a range of concerns with both virtual and in-person instructional plans during the meeting, Superintendent Mark Henry said delaying the start of in-person instruction will provide more time for the district to obtain technology devices and for the spread of COVID-19 to slow in the community.

“I’ll just tell you right up front, there’s no good answer,” he said. “If there was a good answer, if there were an easy answer, we would lay it out for you and everyone would be happy. But there are no perfect answers.”

The Texas Education Agency has mandated public school systems must offer on-campus instruction for all grades served by a campus every day for every student unless prohibited by a state or county order. While no such order has been made in Harris County, Judge Lina Hidalgo issued a letter to local superintendents yesterday with recommendations.

CFISD parents will have the option to send their children to campuses for instruction starting Sept. 8 or to have them learn remotely from home via the district's online curriculum. A questionnaire slated to be released to parents July 27 will gauge how many students district officials can expect on each campus starting in September.

Parents are asked to make their learning method selection by Aug. 5. They will have until Aug. 25 to change their selection, but at that point they cannot make changes until after the first grading period, officials said.

Both options include district curriculum which meets state standards; the same grading, attendance and accountability guidelines; required services such as special education and English as a second language; the option to participate in UIL and extracurricular activities after school; and semester exam exemption eligibility.

The district’s virtual learning program has been improved since the spring and will offer real-time live virtual instruction during school hours, according to officials. Depending on the students’ schedule, some electives such as welding and cosmetology courses may require a student report to campus for certain activities.

Additionally, the district is expecting to receive 25,000 Lenovo Chromebooks through September, and another 55,000 through the end of the fall semester to add to its existing supply of about 40,000 Chromebooks. Officials said earlier this month they are ultimately planning to have enough devices for all students and enough internet hot spots for students who do not have access at home otherwise.

“Our virtual platform is going to be 10 times better than it was in the spring, and I know many of you are glad to hear that,” Henry said. “But there’s nothing that replaces in-person instruction.”

Whether a CFISD teacher is teaching virtually only, in-person only or a combination of the two, all teachers will be required to do their jobs on campus, officials said.

Carol Campbell, a CFISD middle school teacher and 20-year employee of the district, said she is concerned about her family’s health upon returning to classrooms this fall. She said her daughter, who also works for the district, is pregnant and her husband has kidney failure.

“We don’t know what this disease is going to bring us years down the road,” Campbell said. “I’m 60 years old, and I don’t know that I want to die in a Cy-Fair classroom, and I don’t know that I want to bring this disease home to my husband.”

How might campus operations change in 2020-21?

Several proposed preventative measures are in place for staff and students reporting to campuses including daily health screenings. Chief of Staff Teresa Hull said if a student who chooses on-campus instruction is experiencing symptoms, they can participate in the virtual program from home while ill.

“Even a student that is in in-person instruction—if they’re absent even for one day unrelated to COVID-19—if they meet those standards for attendance for remote instruction for that day, we can count them as present,” Hull said.

Face masks will be required for students and staff on school buses, in hallways, in common areas such as cafeterias and in classrooms when social distancing is not feasible. Disposable masks will be provided for students who do not have them, officials said.

The board also approved July 21 the purchase of plexiglass desk shields for every teacher in addition to plexiglass shields for student desks and tables where the need is identified for up to $3.75 million.

Soap and hand sanitizer dispensers will be located throughout all facilities, and student desks will be sanitized between class periods.

Regarding school buses, CFISD will ask parents to register for transportation services so the district can plan accordingly. Face masks and hand sanitization before being seated will be required for passengers, and drivers will disinfect seats between routes to the best of their ability, Hull said.

In cafeterias, face masks would be required, and social distancing would be implemented to the extent that is feasible. Hull said grab-and-go breakfasts and the elimination of self-service options would help limit congestion in cafeterias. No lunchtime visitors will be permitted during the first semester.

If a student or teacher were to test positive for COVID-19, they would be isolated immediately and have the areas they contacted disinfected, according to Director for Health Services Christiane Bernal. She said whether students or staff would be required to quarantine would vary depending on factors including the level of contact made.

District officials said they have more than 1,000 substitute teachers ready to return to work, but they are working to increase that number for 2020-21.

Updates to these proposed plans may be discussed at the Aug. 6 school board meeting, where officials will also review results of parent questionnaires.
By Danica Lloyd
Danica joined Community Impact Newspaper as a Cy-Fair reporter in May 2016 after graduating with a journalism degree from Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. She covers education, local government, business, demographic trends, real estate development and nonprofits.


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