Home Alamo Heights COVID-19 forces North Central classroom delay

COVID-19 forces North Central classroom delay

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Under orders from the state, Texas public school districts including Alamo Heights will reopen campuses, but after Labor Day or even later. Some may continue with distance learning, allow kids back into the classroom, or a hybrid of both. The measure is designed to limit the spread of COVID-19 cases. Photo by Edmond Ortiz

Three North Central school systems are delaying a large-scale return of students to in-classroom instruction while educators, administrators and families grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although the state ordered schools to physically open for the 2020-2021 academic year after campuses shuttered this spring to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, teaching will be done through remote instruction until after Labor Day.

Included are Alamo Heights, North East and San Antonio independent school districts.

Starting Sept. 8, districts may decide to continue virtual learning, hold in-classroom sessions or a hybrid.

Readjusting plans, state officials in July said campuses could postpone August openings until September, though the Texas State Teachers Association and many parents say classes shouldn’t resume until the pandemic eases.

San Antonio Metropolitan Health District Medical Director Dr. Junda Woo mandated public and private schools to not reopen, and prohibited extracurricular pursuits until after Sept. 7. The University Interscholastic League is ordering a delay of fall sports.

On-campus, face-to-face learning could be further postponed depending on COVID-19 cases, Woo said.

“We recognize the importance of reopening schools,” she said in a prepared release. “This directive considers the higher risk for spread of COVID-19 in schools due to their confined spaces, and the challenge for children in following social distancing and hygiene guidelines. Reopening will happen in phases, based on COVID-19 metrics.”

“Please be patient with us.”

Faced by the prospect of more students learning remotely, the state has earmarked $200 million in funding to boost internet access for pupils.

The Texas Education Agency, which OK’d implementing exclusive e-learning for the fall semester’s first four weeks, also indicated districts could add another four weeks, or until October.

TEA also issued health guidelines for public schools, saying social distancing, self-screening for symptoms and other measures will help ensure a safe environment for the eventual return of students to class.

School systems prohibiting in-person instruction based on local health directives won’t lose state funding, leaders said.

SAISD is moving its first day of school from Aug. 10 to Aug. 17.

Officials said their plan gives parents and pupils time to decide how they want to proceed with the learning process.

“This also allows us to train every staff person on our safety procedures,” Superintendent Pedro Martinez added.

Other area education leaders say each school system must evaluate what will best work for them.

“Please be patient with us as we sort through all the information and come up with a final list of safety protocols,” NEISD Superintendent Sean Maika said.

AHISD spokeswoman Patti Pawlik-Perales said, “(We have) been working diligently to prepare for the reopening of schools, with careful thought and regard to local and state health and educational guidelines and directives, with the safety of our students, teachers, staff and their families on our minds and in our hearts.”

Several Texas school districts suspended or curtailed off-season strength and conditioning programs earlier this summer after coaches and pupils either tested positive for the novel coronavirus or said they’d been exposed to an infected individual.

Cancellations by potential participants prompted AHISD to nix its Summer at Heights camp program.

At one AHISD board meeting, several parents, pupils and teachers expressed worries over returning to in-person learning. Other district employees, students and community members said they’re comfortable with AHISD’s on-campus safety plans.

“Many of us aren’t convinced it is safe, appropriate or the correct decision for anyone in the state of Texas right now to return to face-to-face instruction,” said Alamo Heights High School teacher Talia Howard.

Some private and charter institutions, such as Keystone School, are expanding or reconfiguring existing classrooms to provide more space and accommodate social distancing.

Blessed Sacrament Catholic School, Providence Catholic School, Incarnate Word High School, and San Antonio Academy will offer on-campus instruction and distant learning.

The Circle School will have in-person classes, but is prepared to shift instruction, if necessary.

Most Alamo Colleges District campuses, including San Antonio College, will teach courses remotely.

Meanwhile, school systems are adopting budgets, revamping academic calendars and addressing more routine matters.

NEISD approved a $564 million budget, $4.6 million smaller than 2019-2020.

Administrators are delaying employee pay hikes until they can clarify student enrollment and future state school funding.

NEISD also tweaked its 2020-2021 calendar handing students more educational time, including turning three originally scheduled holidays into early-release instructional days.

“Making a huge change to the academic calendar without seeking input from our community is not something we have ever been prepared to do,” Maika said in a statement. “We have a very robust process for approving a calendar, and we remain committed to that.”

SAISD trustees approved a $498 million financial plan, and officials expressed confidence the current crisis would have little to no effect on the projected student enrollment of 48,547.

The district also revised its academic calendar to include 15 additional days as a contingency for COVID-19 outbreaks.

At press time, AHISD was finalizing its budget.

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