As the usual date for school opening approaches, and with updated guidelines from the Texas Education Agency, or TEA, in hand, districts across Texas are finalizing their plans. Facing a high level of COVID-19 infection in the city, Houston ISD will conduct online-only classes for the first six weeks of the coming school year, transitioning to face-to-face learning thereafter.
Grenita Lathan is interim superintendent for the Houston Independent School District. She told Texas Standard’s Laura Rice on Wednesday that parents will also have the option to continue remote learning for their children throughout the fall semester, or for the full school year. Lathan said making the decision to go fully online was difficult.
The area’s high rate of COVID-19 infection was among the reasons HISD chose virtual-only education for the first portion of the semester. But Lathan said response to a survey conducted by the district was another.
“We only had 18 percent of 7,600 teachers that participated in the survey that felt comfortable returning,” she said.
The numbers were considerably higher for parents favoring a return to in-person instruction, but many still opposed it. Of those who responded to the survey, 56% of parents said they did not want to send their children back to school campuses right away.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo recently urged districts in the county to continue online learning up to eight weeks, as allowed by TEA guidelines.
In order to learn & grow, students must be healthy & safe. We urge school districts to defer in-person instruction for at least 8 weeks per @TEAinfo provisions, until data supports a phased in-person reopening. pic.twitter.com/sm9fIiHs9e
— Office of Judge Lina Hidalgo (@HarrisCoJudge) July 20, 2020
Lathan said HISD would consider keeping schools closed for an additional two weeks, if necessary. That decision would be up to the school board, she said.
Houston has experience with disruptions to regular school operations. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey forced the district to move to virtual instruction quickly.
“Lessons learned are that we do need some better systems in place when you think about remote learning,” Lathan said. “We’ve developed an instructional continuity plan that will guide teachers and parents and principles through the virtual process.”
The district has created a class for parents that will describe what they need to know about online learning.
Lathan said the district is working to ensure that all elementary and middle school students have Internet-ready devices. She said high school students in the district already have Chromebook computers.
“We’ve been working to ensure that every child that needs a laptop, Chromebook or iPad, and a hotspot, [will] have them when we open on September 8,” Lathan said.
Web story by Shelly Brisbin.