Several Humble ISD teachers addressed the board of trustees during a teleconference meeting July 14, sharing their questions and concerns about the upcoming school year, which begins Aug. 11 for students but Aug. 3 for teachers. They asked about paid sick leave, personal protective equipment, plexiglass barriers and online learning.
Humble Middle School teacher Jennifer Carpenter asked the board to consider beginning the year completely online for all students to limit the spread of the virus.
“It’s clear that Texas and specifically Harris County are in a state of crisis at the moment," she said. "We know from our experience in the spring that distance learning—while inconvenient to our families and not at all what we want—is the safest approach at this time."
As shown in the district’s survey that went out to parents in late June, students currently have three options for the upcoming year: in-person learning, virtual learning or a hybrid program of online learning with in-person UIL athletics and fine arts. Middle and high school students will be placed on an "A/B daily schedule" to stagger the number of students on campus at a time.
According to district survey results from 38,179 parents, 68.3% of families would like their students to return to the classroom full-time, 24.5% of families would like to have their children learn only online and 7.2% of families would like to have their children learn online with the hybrid option.
HISD Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen said the survey responses were promising, showing that in-person learning could be possible with a reduced on-campus student population. She said the district will follow state guidelines for mask orders.
“Knowing that 31.7% of our students have selected to do online learning, it reduces, naturally, by choice, the number of students on our campuses, which allows for social distancing in all arenas,” she said.
In addition to reduced classroom attendance, students would also be encouraged to eat lunch around campus rather than in only the lunch room, and teachers will be encouraged to embrace outdoor learning where possible. Fagen said having fewer students on campus would also encourage social distancing on buses and hallways.
“Our goal is to create the opportunity for everyone who wants to be on campus to feel safe and to have the opportunity to wear the equipment that makes them feel safe, to have the social distancing that they need to be safe.”
During public comment, Allyson Davis, a teacher at Timbers Elementary School, said she was concerned for her own safety as a teacher as well as for that of her three elementary-aged children.
“There’s a lot of us—staff members, parents of students—who are afraid to enter the building on August 3,” Davis said.
Fagen said teachers will be given the option to chose between online and virtual teaching for personal or medical reasons. Much like students, teachers will be able to indicate whether they would prefer to continue teaching students online or return to campus. Principals or the district's human resources department can help place teachers in the learning style they prefer, Fagen said.
For teachers who wish to continue teaching virtually, HISD is also offering professional development courses to help teachers master the online learning curriculum.
For teachers who want or need to return to on-campus teaching, Fagen said the district offers 10 days of paid sick leave for teachers who may need to quarantine for testing positive for COVID-19, caring for someone who tested positive or at the recommendation of a health care provider.
Fagen also said plans may change due to the nature of the coronavirus. However, she said the district is committed to making changes to the start of the 2020-21 school year no later than Aug. 1.
"With this coronavirus, things change quickly and dramatically," Fagen said. "I believe quality leadership in a time like that doesn’t rush to make a decision but makes decisions just in time based on the information available."