School districts prepare for unknown in the fall amid ongoing pandemic

On June 23, the TEA released guidance giving school districts two options to deliver instruction remotely alongside on-campus learning to receive state funding. Those options include synchronous, or real-time, and asynchronous, or self-paced, remote learning. (Graphic by Matt Mills/Community Impact Newspaper)
On June 23, the TEA released guidance giving school districts two options to deliver instruction remotely alongside on-campus learning to receive state funding. Those options include synchronous, or real-time, and asynchronous, or self-paced, remote learning. (Graphic by Matt Mills/Community Impact Newspaper)

On June 23, the TEA released guidance giving school districts two options to deliver instruction remotely alongside on-campus learning to receive state funding. Those options include synchronous, or real-time, and asynchronous, or self-paced, remote learning. (Graphic by Matt Mills/Community Impact Newspaper)

Image description
After school districts across the Greater Houston area closed in mid-March and quickly shifted to remote learning for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year, district officials are now faced with crafting budgets and calendars for the upcoming school year that can accommodate the unknown. (Graphic by Matt Mills/Community Impact Newspaper)
Image description
To better arm school districts, the TEA announced plans June 15 to distribute personal protective equipment to districts based on 2019-20 student and on-campus staff counts. (Graphic by Matt Mills/Community Impact Newspaper)
The 2020-21 school year is less than one month away and as positive COVID-19 cases continue to increase countywide, Spring, Klein and Cy-Fair ISDs are hoping for the best while preparing for the worst.

After school districts across the Greater Houston area closed in mid-March and quickly shifted to remote learning for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year, district officials are now faced with crafting budgets and calendars for the upcoming school year that can accommodate the unknown.

“We’ve been challenged quite a bit throughout this budget process, throughout this entire spring semester—changes everywhere you turn,” SISD Chief Financial Officer Ann Westbrooks said following the board’s approval of the 2020-21 budget June 24. “Even though it’s a lot of uncertainty ahead of us, we feel as though we have a good team. We’ve done a lot of great work, and we’re meeting the challenge every time it comes at us.”

To assist districts in navigating these uncharted waters, the Texas Education Agency has released some guidance throughout the summer upon which school districts will base their plans. However, many questions still remain surrounding the logistics of holding in-person classes during a pandemic.

Finding flexibility


On June 16, the TEA released guidance acknowledging the 2020-21 school year is likely to be disrupted due to COVID-19 and outlined school calendar scenarios that can adjust for learning loss and minimize disruptions. These recommendations, while not required, include implementing an intersessional calendar, which would include longer breaks throughout the school year to provide flexibility or adding up to 30 days on top of the minimum required 180 days of instruction.

Following this guidance, both KISD and CFISD opted to keep their previously approved 2020-21 instructional calendars while extending their respective school days by 10-15 minutes according to grade level. District officials said the added learning time equals about eight additional school days and will provide a buffer in the event of future closures caused by inclement weather or COVID-19.

“We opted to keep our calendar the same, and yes, we did add some time to the school day to build us up a little cushion of eight days in case we have to let school out,” CFISD Superintendent Mark Henry said June 16. “I know it’s not ideal for everyone, but we thought that was a good way to approach this situation.”

In contrast, SISD opted to revise its previously approved 2020-21 calendar, which would have run Aug. 17-May 28, and switch to a TEA-recommended intersessional option, which runs Aug. 17-June 25. CFISD and KISD end the school year May 27 and 28, respectively.

“The administration believes that our proposed 2020-2021 calendar will give us the flexibility to deal with whatever unknown scenarios we may have to face in this coming school year,” SISD Chief of School Leadership Lupita Hinojosa said in a May 28 board meeting. “We believe this proposed calendar will give us a way to maximize instruction even if we’re forced into another COVID-19-related school closure.”

While district officials said the calendar change was met with some criticism from the SISD community, Superintendent Rodney Watson said he stood by the board’s approval.

“It’s important to note that every school district sees their own unique situation different,” Watson said May 28. “So, for example, ... there are a few districts that say very straightforward, ‘We don’t have a [COVID-19] slide. Our kids are fine. They will be well. We don’t have to plan for that.’ But their socioeconomic status, level of the needs of their kids and their community is totally different from ours.”

Two days after the TEA released calendar guidance, Gov. Greg Abbott told state lawmakers June 18 that students would be returning to Texas public schools in the fall. However, as positive coronavirus cases continue to reach all-time highs across the Greater Houston area, district officials said parents have already voiced concerns about the effect in-person classes could have on the health of their children.

Ironing out options

On June 23, the TEA released guidance giving school districts two options to deliver instruction remotely alongside on-campus learning to receive state funding. Those options include synchronous, or real-time, and asynchronous, or self-paced, remote learning. Updates to guidance June 25 said students and families will choose how they “attend” school, be it an on-campus, remote or hybrid model.

“I’ve received emails from parents asking that their kid be allowed to stay home next year for at least the fall because they’re not comfortable with their child coming back with the possibility of getting the coronavirus. And so, as I’ve talked with people, they’re from one end of the spectrum to the other end of the spectrum,” Watson said during a June 5 meeting.

In preparation for the unknown, the districts have gathered community input this summer through online surveys and listening sessions. They have formed committees and response plans for various COVID-19 scenarios ranging from almost business as usual to schools closing and switching to remote learning as they did this spring.

“I just finished listening sessions with almost 950 people from across Klein ISD, ... and I’m grateful for the feedback and the thoughtfulness and the trust and understanding of the concern that people are experiencing as we think about the 2020-21 school year,” KISD Superintendent Jenny McGown said in a June 22 meeting.

To better arm school districts, the TEA announced plans June 15 to distribute personal protective equipment to districts based on 2019-20 student and on-campus staff counts.

Additionally, CFISD’s 2020-21 budget includes $10 million in funding needs related to COVID-19. SISD’s 2020-21 budget includes contingency funds that can be used to cover unanticipated COVID-19 expenses, and KISD officials said budget amendments will be made as needed to cover COVID-19 expenditures.

As COVID-19 scenarios continue to evolve, district officials are also working to address logistical issues such as class configurations, transportation and the use of common areas such as playgrounds, cafeterias and libraries. However, guidance from the TEA on these details is forthcoming.

Danica Lloyd, Anna Lotz and Adriana Rezal contributed to this report.
By Hannah Zedaker
Born and raised in Cypress, Texas, Hannah Zedaker graduated from Sam Houston State University in 2016 with a bachelor's degree in mass communication and a minor in political science. She began as an intern with Community Impact Newspaper in 2015 and was hired upon graduation as a reporter for The Woodlands edition in May 2016. In January 2019, she was promoted to serve as the editor of the Spring/Klein edition where she covers Spring ISD and Harris County Commissioners Court, in addition to business, development and transportation news.


MOST RECENT

Gwen Sims first joined Harris County Public Health in 1997. (Courtesy Harris County Public Health)
Deputy Director Gwen Sims appointed interim executive director of Harris County Public Health

Harris County Commissioners Court unanimously appointed Gwen Sims to serve as the interim executive director of Harris County Public Health in anticipation of Executive Director Umair Shah's departure Dec. 18.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise
Hewlett Packard Enterprise to relocate headquarters from Silicon Valley to Springwoods Village

Hewlett Packard Enterprise announced Dec. 1 plans to relocate its headquarters from San Jose, California to a brand new campus in the Greater Houston area, which is under construction in CityPlace at Springwoods Village.

CCEMS provides emergency medical services for approximately 177 square miles of North Harris County. (Courtesy Cypress Creek EMS)
Judge rules Harris County Emergency Services District No. 11 can no longer withhold payments from Cypress Creek EMS

The ESD No. 11 board voted to terminate its contract with CCEMS on Sept. 3 after a long history of disagreements over the two entities’ 16-year relationship.

Klein ISD is seeking community input on the calendar for the 2021-22 school year. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Klein ISD seeks community input on 2021-22 calendar

Option A has the first day of school Aug. 18 and the last day of school May 27, before Memorial Day. Option B has the first day of school Aug. 23 and the last day of school on June 2, after Memorial Day.

To support this initiative, community members are encouraged to visit NAM's Blessing Tree, located at 15555 Kuykendahl Road, Houston, where they can choose a child's name and shop specifically for that child. (Courtesy Northwest Assistance Ministries)
Northwest Assistance Ministries in need of donations to support biggest Season of Blessings campaign in nonprofit's history

Northwest Assistance Ministries is in need of toys, food and monetary donations to provide meals to more than 1,700 families and toys to more than 5,300 children this holiday season. By comparison, the nonprofit provided meals for 994 families and toys for 1,773 children in 2019.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has launched a campaign to address declining college enrollment numbers across the state since the pandemic started. (Courtesy Pexels)
Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board launches campaign to boost college enrollment

The decline in college enrollment across the state of Texas has prompted several agencies to partner up and create online resources for students and counselors.

The full-service, acute-care hospital first opened in December 2000. (Courtesy Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital)
Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital marks 20 years this December

The full-service, acute-care hospital first opened in December 2000.

The 24-hour hospital boasts the latest in diagnostic and surgical expertise, including health care, women's health and orthopedics. (Courtesy CHI St. Luke's Health The Vintage Hospital)
CHI St. Luke's Health The Vintage Hospital to celebrate 10 years in Northwest Houston on Dec. 10

The 24-hour hospital boasts the latest in diagnostic and surgical expertise, including health care, women's health and orthopedics.

Nearly 750 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Cy-Fair ISD from Sept. 8-Nov. 29. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Cy-Fair ISD reports 170 COVID-19 cases among students, staff Nov. 16-29

Most of these cases came the week leading up to Thanksgiving break from Nov. 16-22—only 38 cases were confirmed over the weeklong break when campuses were closed Nov. 23-29, according to district data.

The ice skating complex has been in business since 1995. (Courtesy Aerodrome Ice Skating Complex)
Aerodrome Ice Skating Complex celebrates 25 years of business in Willowbrook this month

A pro-shop tent sale is planned Dec. 4-5, featuring discounted hockey gear and figure-skating merchandise.

Dozens of clinics throughout the county offer COVID-19 testing services. (William C. Wadsack/Community Impact Newspaper)
COVID-19 testing locations remain open in Montgomery County and more local news

Read the latest Houston-area business and community news.