Fort Bend ISD announced Monday night on Twitter that it will start the 2020-21 academic year exclusively with online learning, bucking guidance issued by the Texas Education Agency that all public schools in the state should provide in-person instruction to students whose families prefer that option.
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, FBISD said it plans to phase in face-to-face instruction with small groups. During the period of distance learning to start the school year, the district said daily online engagement will be required of students and no extracurricular activities – including athletics and fine arts – will take place.
“During online instruction, health and safety procedures will be fine-tuned for the gradual utilization of in-person instruction,” FBISD said on Twitter. “The safety and well-being of everyone is FBISD’s top priority.”
FBISD, one of the largest school districts in the Houston area, pushed back almost immediately last week after the TEA released its statewide guidance for the upcoming school year. The TEA said July 7 that all public schools in Texas must provide – among other things – daily on-campus instruction for students whose parents or guardians want that, while following the required public health procedures and subject to school closures. The TEA noted that there will almost certainly be situations that necessitate temporary school closures due to positive COVID-19 cases on campuses.
FBISD responded later that day by saying the on-campus instruction requirement does not provide local school districts with the flexibility to make decisions based on local data and community input.
“While it is our intent to provide daily face-to-face classroom learning for any student selecting that option, we cannot commit to such a plan until we survey teachers to determine their willingness and ability to return to face-to-face instruction,” the district said.
FBISD said Tuesday that staff members will be required to complete daily health assessments before reporting to their campuses. All staff, students and visitors will undergo non-contact temperature checks prior to entering FBISD facilities, the district said, and all of them will be required to wear face coverings.
FBISD already had been planning to offer a hybrid model between face-to-face instruction as well as online curriculum. Parents will be asked to pre-register for online learning later this month, according to the district.
“We remain committed to following TEA guidance and the strategic plan set forth by our local Board of Trustees to provide an educational system that allows all students to reach their full potential – in any circumstance,” FBISD Superintendent Charles Dupre said. “Our teachers and campus staff are at the heart of everything we do, and we will not ask them to bear the risk and weight of any re-opening plan.”
The TEA’s guidance, which includes a series of requirements and recommendations for school districts, addresses sanitization and safety procedures for classrooms and school buses, saying schools should incorporate outside air flow when possible. It also calls for social distancing both during class and at lunch as well as the use of masks as most Texans who are at least 10 years old are required to wear face coverings in public per an executive order by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
The TEA also outlined protocols for separating students who show symptoms once they are on campus. It also suggests using physical dividers between desks and bathroom sinks.
At all Texas schools, the TEA said parents who choose an online instruction model at the beginning of the school year can later switch to an on-campus setting at the end of a grading period. If a school does not offer virtual instruction, the TEA guidance says students may transfer to another school that does.
“Both as commissioner and as a public school parent, my number one priority is the health and safety of our students, teachers, and staff,” Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said in a news release from the TEA. “That is why the guidance laid out today will provide flexibility to both parents and districts to make decisions based on the ever-changing conditions of this public health crisis.”
To see the TEA’s complete guidance, visit https://tea.texas.gov/sites/default/files/covid/covid19-SY-20-21-Public-Health-Guidance.pdf.