Of the 18,000 parents who responded to a Fort Bend ISD survey, 43% said under current circumstances they were very comfortable or somewhat comfortable sending their children back to school for the 2020-21 school year. Additionally, 49% of 4,500 staff respondents said they would be comfortable returning to work.
FBISD Superintendent Charles Dupre shared these survey results and provided an update on the district's planning efforts for next school year during a virtual town hall July 1.
A majority of the survey respondents, which include 7,000 students, supported additional safety measures such as cleaning protocols, hand sanitizer, keeping students in the same room, staggered schedules and restricting high-risk activities. Furthermore, 74% of participants said they would support wearing face masks at school.
When asked about returning to school with implemented safety precautions, 66% of parents said they would be very or somewhat comfortable sending their student back to school, and 68% of staff said they would be comfortable returning to work.
“I want our staff listening tonight to know that your health and well-being is not being sacrificed just to reopen schools,” Dupre said. “We are keeping you at the forefront of our thinking, just as we are the students, because we know we cannot open school and serve our students without our staff’s full support.”
Dupre noted the survey was administered in early June, before a recent increase in the number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations both at the county and state levels. He said the district will release another survey prior to finalizing plans for next year.
While no decisions were announced during the July 1 town hall, Dupre said more finalized plans and an adjusted school calendar will be presented to the board of trustees at a July 13 meeting.
Dupre said the school calendar will likely be modified to include more holidays, intervention days, an intercession period and a possible extension, but he said the first day of school—Aug. 12—will not change.
While the district initially considered a hybrid model in which students learn partially online and partially in the classroom, Dupre said district officials are now thinking about this as a fallback.
“We're going to definitely have face to face; we are definitely going to have online,” Dupre said. “However, the hybrid learning model that we previously discussed will be a fallback, alternate position in the event we do not have physical space in the building to serve all kids full time.”
Dupre said during the week of July 27, the district will require all parents to register their children and declare whether they would like to learn in an online or in-school environment. Children will be committed to this selection for at least the first nine weeks of school.
As part of the survey, 21% of parents said they are considering other educational options outside of FBISD for next school year. Dupre said he hopes to encourage families to stay enrolled in the district.
“If we have tended to your child's needs to this point successfully, I would not be worried about what's about to happen this fall,” Dupre said. “We are going to be very well prepared, and we will meet your child's needs in the best way possible to the best of our ability.”
To do this, Dupre said the district has partnered with medical professionals and will implement infection-control measures comparable to those found in hospitals for students and staff who return in person. These measures include potential reductions in class sizes if space necessitates, face masks and shields, and temperature and symptom screenings.
For students who choose online learning, he said there will be increased access to live instruction, standardized use of online tools and normal grading requirements.
“In most ways what you can expect is this is going to look like a typical school year, only learning will be conducted in different ways using online tools and resources for many of our students,” Dupre said.