Houston Federation of Teachers calls for return to all-virtual learning after Thanksgiving

The Houston Federation of Teachers is asking the district to consider switching back to all-virtual learning after Thanksgiving. (Community Impact staff)
The Houston Federation of Teachers is asking the district to consider switching back to all-virtual learning after Thanksgiving. (Community Impact staff)

The Houston Federation of Teachers is asking the district to consider switching back to all-virtual learning after Thanksgiving. (Community Impact staff)

Andrew Dewey, executive vice president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, said the teachers association would ask HISD in a meeting Nov. 19 to move all schools to all-virtual learning after Thanksgiving due to the prolonged and ongoing COVID-19 surge.

Houston Independent School District has continued to keep its schools open to in-person learning.

In its original reopening plan, the district noted that if the average positivity rate was greater than 7% for a 14-day period, all schools would go virtual. But in October, Houston ISD announced a change to its COVID-19 policy that adjusts the protocol for schools closing due to positivity rates without illustrating the new metrics on which the policy change was based.

On Oct. 26, the Harris County COVID-19 dashboard showed the average positivity rate for the past 14 days at 7.4%, which means that under the original policy, schools would have gone virtual.

As of Nov. 18, the 14-day average was up to 8.4%, according to the Harris County COVID-19 dashboard.


"The reality is we have to go back to virtual," Dewey said. "We thought it was a mistake to open in person when they did. HISD, to its credit, delayed it as long as they could. Strangely enough, the surge has been going on since schools began to open up in September. It's now again in a situation where it's out of control. We are asking the district today to go all-virtual after Thanksgiving break, at least through the end of the semester, and we understand the consequences that may be coming to the state regarding funding, but it's time to do this, just in the name of safety."

Dewey said the union cannot predict how the district is going to respond to the request. The meeting was set for Nov. 19 at 2:30 p.m.

This move by HFT comes just a day after New York City announced its schools will be going all-remote due to increasing COVID-19 cases. Its threshold was an average positivity rate of 3%.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said according to the Harris County Public Health guidance, school districts in Harris County should already be closed to in-person and should be learning virtually only.

"In-person instruction is a lifeline for working parents, and we all recognize that," Hidalgo said. "But I also recognize [that] we have to be realistic and accept that the current setup, where schools open before the numbers got to where they needed to be, has us on a ping-pong of sorts—a yo-yo effect where we're opening schools only to see numbers rise dramatically—and that's not a sustainable situation."

Hidalgo said Harris County is currently at "level red," which is characterized by uncontrolled community spread; that, she said, means that it is not the time for in-person instruction or large gatherings and that families should only celebrate the holidays with people within their household.

According to the Texas Education Agency, school districts can take public health authorities' recommendations, but ultimately, school leaders have the final say. According to the state's latest update on its "Pandemic School Formula," to be eligible for full funding, school districts must offer in-person learning to parents who want that option for their child.

Due to the pandemic and the stress it has placed upon school districts across the state, a group of Texas lawmakers is calling for the TEA to suspend the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, exam—or, at a minimum, not to use student scores to rate schools or districts this school year.

Allison Newport, an HISD parent of two students, said she has walked her children through the practice tests and that it is challenging.

"This has been my first experience seeing my kids taking the STAAR test—you know, doing practice tests in a virtual environment," Newport said. "It's really stressful. Even if they do well on the test, it's very hard to get through, and I would be really happy if they didn't have it this year, and I think that the students don't need any more stress. The teachers don't need any more stress, and testing doesn't work well in this virtual-blended environment."

The Texas Department of State Health Services has an online dashboard with the number of cases of COVID-19 reported by Texas public schools; it has shown a steady increase in reported cases for both student and staff.

The Houston Health Department also issued a statement on working with schools.

"The Houston Health Department is prepared to continue providing the necessary COVID-19 support and guidance to our community partners," the statement read. "In anticipation of the surge, the department is working closely with schools to identify mitigation strategies that will allow them to evaluate their individual circumstances, examine available resources and then make the best decision for their institution. With support from epidemiologists and environmental, health and safety officers and contact tracing subject matter experts, the department can provide the best practice guidance needed for the COVID-19 response."

This article was originally published by Community Impact Newspaper media partner ABC13.
By ABC13
A Community Impact Newspaper media partner


MOST RECENT

The Heights Hospital
Heights Hospital staff, patients locked out over unpaid rent

Other medical tenants in the building continue to see patients, however.

COVID-19 vaccines
DATA: Texas has vaccinated about 9% of estimated Phase 1 recipients

Over 1.1 million individuals from the Phase 1 population, which is estimated to include 13.5 million individuals total, have received at least one dose.

Bob Popinski, policy director of Raise Your Hand Texas, shared the organization's top education priorities for the ongoing legislative session. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
‘What does virtual learning and remote learning look like moving forward?': Raise Your Hand Texas policy director talks legislative priorities

Bob Popinski is the director of policy for Raise Your Hand Texas, an Austin-based organization committed to improving public education. He spoke with Community Impact Newspaper in late December about the 87th legislative session, which began Jan. 12.

Houston City Hall aerial view
Houston City Council ethics committee to review speech policies

The discussion comes after Facebook posts by Council Member Greg Travis led to calls for his resignation or censure.

Bayou City Art Festival Downtown is scheduled to return in person in October. (Courtesy Katya Horner/Bayou City Art Festival)
Bayou City Art Festival scheduled for in-person return in October

The Memorial Park version of the festival will be celebrated through alternative virtual and smaller in-person events.

Mayor Sylvester Turner issued a warning to bars and nightclubs across Houston and said he plans to go after any establishment seen disregarding capacity guidelines. (Screenshot via Twitter)
Mayor Sylvester Turner calls out concerts, clubs operating over capacity

Turner also reported 1,964 new cases of COVID-19 along with 17 virus-related deaths.

At a Jan. 15 emergency court hearing, officials came up with a plan to try to reduce the inmate population at the Harris County Jail that centers on hosting more bail reduction hearings. (Courtesy Brian Jackson/Adobe Stock)
With open beds dwindling, officials look for ways to reduce Harris County jail population

The inmate population at the Harris County Jail is rising, and officials are looking for ways to quickly ease the pressure as concerns grow over the ability to quarantine and restrict the spread of the coronavirus.

Bocca Italian Kitchen serves seasonal, Italian-inspired dishes, such as polenta and various pastas. (Courtesy Marco Torres)
Italian eateries open in Generation Park; Houston bike lane fines enforced and more local news

Read the latest business and community news from the Houston area.

Minute Maid Park
Houston Health Department vaccine appointments fill up in 16 minutes

The department will administer 5,000 doses at Minute Maid Park on Jan. 16 and 17.

Officials expect demand for the vaccine will be huge once it opens to the general public. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Montgomery County plans vaccine distribution; FDA warns of false negatives and more top Houston-area news

Read the most popular stories from the past week from the Houston area.

Shepherd-Durham project
TxDOT opens public comment period on Shepherd-Durham project

Construction is slated to begin by the end of 2021.