Last week, both area school districts published updates regarding protocols and instructional learning options under the first full school year facing the COVID-19 threat.
Comal Independent School District announced plans to hold on-campus sessions several weeks ago, included in its 58-page document for parents released on Wednesday; New Braunfels Independent School District released its 26-page guide on Thursday.
Comal ISD’s plans led to appearances by parents and teachers during the two most recent county commissioners meetings and district trustees Thursday night.
“We don’t feel like we have a voice,” Kate Fraser, a U.S. History teacher at CISD’s Danville Middle School, said before commissioners Thursday. “Never once have we been asked what we think of the plan, what we think is manageable, and how we feel about returning to face-to-face instruction with the students.”
This week, parents must select in-person or remote learning sessions when schools open. NBISD, which opens Aug. 24, gives parents until midnight on Sunday; Comal ISD, opening Aug. 25, will accept decisions through Tuesday. Both districts need the information to set final plans, which parents can change if opting to do so.
“Our priorities for returning to school is the education of our students and the health and safety of our teachers, staff and students,” said Steve Stanford, Comal ISD executive communications director. “To that end, we have been diligently working to implement all of the guidelines outlined for us by the Texas Education Agency.
Fraser, former CISD teacher Kim Farlow; parent Shannon Drichta and her daughter Natalie, a seventh-grader at Danville, addressed the meeting. Meanwhile, several other supporters with Open Comal County Schools Safely stood outside the courthouse holding signs asking Main Plaza vehicles to honk in support.
Comal commissioners could only commiserate.
“They want us to delay the start of in-person school, but we don’t have the authority to do that,” County Judge Sherman Krause said. “I sympathize with them — they’ve got genuine concerns and hope they will address those (before) the school district. But there’s not anything we can do about it.”
Comal ISD Superintendent Andrew Kim voiced his displeasure with San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, which issued a July 17 directive that temporarily sidelined five CISD schools in Bexar County from holding on-campus sessions.
The decision addressed a spike in positivity rates, which have since peaked from near 30% highs in Bexar County and remain above 15% in Comal County. Dr. Dorothy Overman, the titular head of the county public health office, has long advised local officials and school district administrators against on-person sessions until positivity rates drop — preferably as low as between 5% and 6%.
“The positivity data that is being referenced is readily available to all of our parents and can be used by them to make an informed decision for themselves (on) whether it is safe to send their children to school or if they should take the remote learning option that we are providing,” Stanford said.
However, Gov. Greg Abbott’s latest order was recently backed by Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose opinion barred local health districts from blocking active school instruction — opening the way for Indian Springs, Kinder Ranch, Specht and Timberwood Park elementary schools and Pieper Ranch Middle School to open as scheduled Aug. 25.
In a recent letter to parents, Kim addressed the use of face coverings, which Abbott’s order exempted for children 10 and younger.
“To enhance the safety of our teachers, staff and students, we will be asking that all students, regardless of age or grade, come to school with a face covering of your choice (mask, face shield, or neck gaiter) as we start the new school year,” he said.
“We know that parents of our younger and special education students may have concerns about their students wearing face coverings. We are not asking that they wear them all day, but we do want the coverings to be available to students so they can put them on when social distancing is not feasible.
“We also know some families may have personal issues with face coverings, so remote learning may be an option to consider … the effectiveness of face coverings has been a point of debate during this pandemic. However, we are at a point now where we need to work together to not only keep our teachers, staff and students safe but minimize the spread of the virus.”
NBISD remote learning options due Sunday
NBISD parents who select remote learning options for their children during the first nine-week grading period must complete applications by 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 9.
Applications must be completed for each child participating; no further action is required of those who select on-campus instruction during online registrations, which end Aug. 21.
Students requesting remote learning must commit to the option for at least one grading period. Parents wishing to change choices during the school year must notify their child’s school no later than the two weeks prior to the end of a grading period, the district said. For more, visit nbisd.org and apply this link: https://bit.ly/3fdpIvF
Parents of elementary students are advised that an actual seat at your child’s home campus will not be reserved for your student if you choose remote learning. Those deciding to return for in-person instruction throughout the year and find grade levels full due to teacher/student class size ratios, will have the option to remain in remote instruction or overflow to another elementary campus.