The Fort Bend ISD board of trustees approved the timeline for phasing students who choose face-to-face learning back into the classroom during its Sept. 14 meeting.

Under the approved schedule, teachers will report back to the classroom Sept. 23, followed by elementary students gradually returning to campus by grade level starting Sept. 28 and secondary students transitioning back during the week of Oct. 5. All students who selected face-to-face learning will be back on campus Oct. 9 ahead of the start of the second nine weeks Oct. 12.

According to results presented during the meeting, approximately 40% of students selected face-to-face learning for the second nine weeks. All students have the option to remain fully online for the entire school year. Students can switch between learning models between nine-week grading periods.

Superintendent Charles Dupre said this timeline is the quickest way to get students learning in the classroom.

“We’ve run every idea aground to make sure the ideas we are proposing, the schedules that we are implementing work to serve the best interests of the students,” Dupre said. “... We can’t promise it's going to be an easy road, and we can’t promise that we’ll fulfill everyone’s individual expectation or desire, but we are doing everything we can to truly produce the high-quality learning experience and to demonstrate value of our teachers that we are known for in Fort Bend ISD.”

Preparing for in-person and online

During the meeting, district staff also presented an update on what online and face-to-face schedules will look like.

The schedules are staggered, meaning that the class times for students on campus and students online do not align. Yet staff said this makes better use of district resources and allows for consistency—students learning in person will follow a more traditional schedule, and students online will have the schedule they have grown accustomed to during the pandemic.

Brett Lemley, FBISD’s assistant superintendent of secondary schools, said the proposed schedule along with A/B blocks—where students attend half of their classes one day and the other half the next day—will allow secondary students who have opted for online learning to participate in athletics, fine arts and other specialty courses in-person.

Trustee Kristin Tassin challenged whether the staggered schedule is better than an aligned schedule in which online and in-person classes would have the same bell times. She said this is an area where she has received a lot of feedback from parents, students and teachers.

“I just want to say here that I have a lot of concerns about this plan,” Tassin said. “I know you guys have run the traps and run this down and are confident in this plan ... but as a parent and a trustee, I still have a lot of unanswered questions.”

Furthermore, Tassin said she believes an aligned schedule would be more equitable, flexible and allow for easier transition between online and in-person learning.

“If we are in an aligned situation, what we would need is for every single teacher to teach both face-to-face and online classes as opposed to if we are in a staggered schedule we can have some teachers teach purely online and some teachers teach purely face-to-face,” Lemley said. “If we do have the synchronous schedule—where we have the same start and end time—we are going to miss out on some of the transition time from home to school for students to attend those speciality face-to-face classes.”

Trustee Dave Rosenthal explained to the community what the board’s role is in the return-to-campus plan. He said the board is the governing body, while the superintendent is the manager who carries out the day-to-day operations of the district.

Still, Rosenthal said the board’s job is to listen to the community and discuss concerns with the superintendent to make sure they are addressed.

“Dr. Dupre believes that this plan is the most flexible and will help the most number of our students,” Rosenthal said. “What I’m about to say, some people may take it as a threat, but it’s not; it’s just business: This is his plan; this is the management of the district; and he’s the one that will be held accountable for this plan. I hope it works great; I think we all hope it works great, because we all want the best for our students.”

Rosenthal along with several other trustees including Jim Rice and Grayle James, stressed that there needs to be clear communication surrounding the back-to-school timeline, transition plan and new schedules to school administrators, teachers and parents.

In her comments, trustee Addie Heyliger said Dupre should feel empowered to pivot if the proposed plan does not work.

“Dr Dupre, as the head leader of this district, the head manager of this district, one of the things that I implore you with is if we find out this plan is not working, that we pivot,” Heyliger said. “We take the proper flags, indicators and say, ‘This is not working,’ and do it sooner versus later.”