A student walks down the hallway at Cactus Elementary School. Photo credit: Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune
Texas schools might start bringing students back to classrooms on staggered schedules in the fall. Or they might have some students show up at school while others continue their coursework online.
Or they might stay completely virtual until 2021.
While it’s much too early to pin down all the permutations of how and where COVID-19 might remain a health risk come August, Texas superintendents are starting to game out how public education will look in the fall.
Since Gov. Greg Abbott closed all schools in late March, school districts have cobbled together combinations of online learning and old-school written worksheets handed out to students without reliable internet. The evolving, makeshift system has raised concerns about students without computers being left out and overwhelmed parents struggling with their new roles as home school teachers.
Some superintendents worry that students will fall ever further behind the longer school buildings are closed. And they know they must improve remote teaching in case the return date ends up being even further off than projected.
They’re watching the number of cases rise and fall in their regions as the state slowly begins allowing some businesses to reopen and some public health experts warn against sudden moves. They’re stocking up on Chromebooks and hard-to-find Wi-Fi hotspots.
And they’re cautiously rolling out information to staff and parents as they weigh the health risks of bringing kids back too early.
Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath has been holding biweekly phone calls with superintendents across the state to discuss plans, but no official decisions have been made.
“The bigger question is: How can you plan to be nimble so that if the situation changes quickly, you can adjust to the change either way, either toward bringing kids into buildings, or perhaps once you bring kids into building, having to put them back into distance learning environments?” said Brian Woods, superintendent of Northside Independent School District in San Antonio.
“If you ask me today, what’s the percentage chance we come back in August? I have no idea. Somewhere between 0 and 100%.”
About half the students in the 100,000-student school district are economically disadvantaged, and 12% are receiving special education services. Woods and his staff are considering bringing back those students least likely to be served virtually in the fall while keeping the other half in distance learning as a way to reduce exposure.
But that method of splitting students up is less possible for districts like small Hearne ISD, outside of College Station, where 96% of students are economically disadvantaged, meaning pretty much all are hurting while school buildings are closed.
This story was originally published by The Texas Tribune and can be found here.