With more questions than answers so far, Longview-area school districts are gearing up for the 2020-21 school year — a year educators say will be unlike any they, students or parents have ever seen.
Among the moves being made to contend with returning to classrooms during the COVID-19 pandemic are technology purchases, teacher training and consideration of classroom schedules to reduce numbers of students in one place at the same time. Administrators also are considering the reality that parents will be unwilling to send children back to school, and changing the school-year calendar.
While they make clear none of the plans are finalized and are likely to continue changing based on realities of the pandemic and new guidelines from local, state and federal authorities, districts are discussion many scenarios.
Here’s a look, by district, at those discussions and plans:
At Longview ISD, administrators are still monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic and looking at several plans for fall, district spokeswoman Elizabeth Ross said in a written statement.
“They will continue to communicate and listen to guidance from (the Texas Education Agency), Mayor (Andy) Mack and Gov. (Greg) Abbott in moving forward with any plans for the 2020-2021 school year,” she said. “LISD administration are discussing all options and working on several plans to get students and teachers back to school.”
The top priority in the plans, Ross said, will be health and safety.
Pine Tree ISD
At Pine Tree ISD, Superintendent Steve Clugston said several possible plans were being considered depending on conditions when school starts — and that plans could change along with changes in the virus.
“We’ve got to be in a position where we can switch to any plan at the drop of a hat,” he said. “More than likely, I expect us to be back in school with precautions in place.”
The district is preparing for “several scenarios,” one being the possibility of an uptick in COVID-19 cases this fall causing school to close for a couple of weeks.
However, Clugston said he was sure of two things: The district will get more technology and teachers will get more training for a smooth transition to virtual learning, if necessary.
Spring Hill ISD
Spring Hill ISD Superintendent Wayne Guidry said his team also is preparing for possible pandemic-related disruptions in the school year.
As at Pine Tree, that preparation includes training and technology purchases.
Additionally, the district is considering parents who will not be ready to send their children back to school.
“I think that’s a reality all districts will have to deal with,” Guidry said. “There’s a lot of parents scared to send their kids back. We know we will have some kids that won’t come back to school next year. We have kids with underlying health issues that would more at risk for COVID, and we’re preparing for that.”
This week, each campus will be presenting to district officials how school will operate, Guidry said. Some of those changes include where students will walk between classes and how they’ll use shared spaces.
“It will definitely show us our roadblocks,” he said. “We have to think about how do you do band, how do you do athletics?”
Everything is subject to change by the time fall is here, Guidry said.
White Oak ISD
White Oak ISD recently hosted a socially distant meeting where 16 different districts were represented to brainstorm ideas for best practices for the fall, Superintendent Brian Gray said.
“A big topic was calendars,” Gray said. “TEA came out with adjusted calendars. All area school districts are looking at what they may or may not want to do. A large part was, how we will have instruction in-person and possibly online? We discussed that in great detail.”
Districts do not have to adopt the adjusted calendars TEA released, he said.
Other topics districts are looking at include transportation, health screenings and how extra-curricular activities would function, Gray said.
“All the districts are working hard to meet the needs of students in the COVID-19 world we’re living in now. We don’t know what that situation will like in two months,” he said. “The bottom line is we want to educate our kids and do the best we can, and we’re going to come up with any number of plans to do that.”
Superintendent Stacey Bryce said “it’s a good possibility” school in the fall will look different than in the past, but it still is too soon to say exactly what that means.
The district is preparing to have regular face-to-face instruction, online learning and a blend of both, he said. The plans will depend on guidelines from local, state and national officials.
While more teacher training definitely will take place, Bryce said the district is well-equipped with technology.
“It’s kind of early to have any definite plans, but we are going to look at a blended situation,” he said. “If we’re able to open the school doors again there may be some kids that still stay at home because parents may not feel like it’s safe to go to school, and if that happens then we’re going to teach them at home.”
Superintendent Sedric Clark said a hybrid model of in-person and virtual learning could operate in many different ways.
One option is an A/B day schedule for students. Under such a plan, some students would come to school on A days and others on B days. Virtual learning would take place on the day students are not on campus.
“I know that weighs on parents, so we’re hoping we don’t have to do that,” Clark said. “It could also be a staggered day, where some come to school in the morning and some in the evening. Right now we just don’t know.”
St. Mary’s Catholic
In Longview private schools, St. Mary’s Catholic School Principal Darbie Safford said the school is planning a parallel program, which would provide virtual learning for families not comfortable sending children to campus.
The school is preparing to transition back into remote learning easily if needed, she said.
However, more virtual learning could be difficult for the preschool students the school teaches, she said.
Much of the learning a 3-year-old does includes center play and being in groups, which is hard to do while having to enforce social distancing, she said.
“We have to make sure we are using socially distancing and still helping the kids learn,” Safford said. “The most important thing for us to share with our families, and all families, is we need to find solutions that are going to best meet the needs of the kids. It can’t be about what’s convenient for the school or the teacher, it has to be about this particular student, what do we need to do to make sure that student is being served.”
Longview’s Christian Heritage Classical School is expecting about 250 students to return in the fall, spokeswoman Bethany Headrick said. The small class sizes will allow for easier social distancing.
Headrick said the school’s principal, Stephanie Jones, is meeting with committees and doctors to set up best practices for a school year as close to normal as possible.
“We have safety measures in place, like hand sanitizer — which we’ve always had — then we will also be continuing to encourage kids to wash their hands regularly throughout the day,” Headrick said. “We will be taking temperatures at the door for everyone as they come in, we have new equipment ordered.”
The school also plans to survey to its community to ask about the special needs of students and families, she said. The survey will help the school determine any adjustments that need to be made because of a health problem or a student living with an at-risk family member.