Fort Bend ISD advisers approve innovation plan

Fort Bend ISD is one step closer to becoming a District of Innovation after the FBISD Academic Advisory Council voted Wednesday to approve an innovation plan calling for the district to exempt itself from state rules governing school calendars, attendance requirements and some teacher certifications.

The innovation plan created by the FBISD Innovation Committee was not shared with the public at Wednesday’s vote. Only AAC members—who voted 37-3 in favor—received copies of the plan. District officials said at the meeting they hope to post the innovation plan to the district’s website on Thursday.

District officials said the plan calls for FBISD to be exempted from three rules in the state education code:

School year start date: Now FBISD will be able to begin classes when it sees fit, avoiding what has this year become a difficult calendar making process, as officials have had trouble creating a 2017-18 calendar that provides the time off desired by students and teachers but still meets state instruction time minimums.

Teacher certification: Instead of requiring all teachers to be state-certified, FBISD will be able to hire uncertified teachers, with the innovation plan specifying that uncertified teachers may only be hired for “hard-to-fill” positions, while certified teacher applicants must be given priority in the hiring process, according to district officials.

90 percent attendance requirements: State law requires a student be present for 90 percent of a course’s scheduled class time to pass the course, but the innovation plan allows FBISD to pass students who have good grades but are unable to attend 90 percent of classes due to extenuating circumstances, according to district officials.

Before the vote there was some confusion among members of the AAC, after innovation committee members discussed a second “document” of policy changes and other measures they wished FBISD to pursue.

When an AAC member told officials she did not want to approve a plan she had not seen, many in the audience nodded and murmured in agreement.

Attorney Debra Esterak, who has provided legal counsel to FBISD and the innovation committee as it drafted the plan, explained the other document the committee members referred to is a list of ideas that do not require FBISD’s designation as a District of Innovation for them to be implemented.

“Instead of limiting the committee to laws that can be opted out of, they made two plans, and one is for things the district is not barred from doing by law, but hasn’t because of some other reason, such as funding,” Esterak said.

“The local innovation plan will not change,” FBISD chief of staff Beth Martinez said.

The approved plan will be put on display for 30 days, and afterward the FBISD board of trustees will vote on whether to approve it. If approved, the plan will be filed with the state’s education commission. It does not need state approval.

The District of Innovation concept was created with passage of House Bill 1842 in 2015, which allows school districts that meet state-set performance requirements to opt out of those state education rules that which open enrollment charter schools are not required to adhere.