Cases of the Delta variant of the coronavirus have reached troubling levels in recent days – enough to have parents up in arms seeking more assurances from county districts – and depending on what day you checked in, you might have received wildly different information about what districts planned to do.
Regardless of your politics on the matter, school will soon resume for the many thousands of students in Fort Bend County, and some parents are concerned about the safety of their children amid rising numbers of COVID-19 Delta variant cases and increased hospitalization rates.
State leaders, such as Gov. Greg Abbott, and their total lack of foresight on the possibility of something like the Delta variant have played some part in hamstringing Fort Bend County school districts from making quick fixes and adjustments to keep children safe.
But those same districts have also exacerbated the confusion by shifting their plans, refusing to plainly say what constrictions they’re under and apparently not planning for the worst-case scenario.
An organized group of parents have banded together to ask our local districts for possible solutions, including a virtual schooling option, asking Abbott to make an exception to his ban on mask mandates for public schools and even grouping students by their desire to mask or not mask.
There may be any number of reasons why districts would opt to reject these possibilities. We are not education and learning logistics experts – they are.
But whatever the case may be, it is the districts’ duty, moral imperative to respond to concerned parents and, either acknowledge they’ve heard them and are considering the possibility, or explain why they’ve decided otherwise. Speaking in vague generalities and declining to answer specific questions isn’t nearly enough.
Thus far, it seems the leadership of many local districts is allergic to such conversations.
Take Fort Bend ISD as an illustrative example.
One of those concerned parents, Bri Sadhwani, told the Fort Bend Star last week that she and her fellow parents hadn’t heard anything from the district regarding their varied proposals for ensuring student safety. But it’s not just those parents the district hasn’t responded to.
The Fort Bend Star early last week reached out to the district and asked specifically about the possibility of virtual schooling for students still concerned about the possibility of contracting coronavirus. While many district students are likely vaccinated, those 12 and younger aren’t eligible for the vaccine.
A spokesperson for the district responded to the query with a blanket statement, arguing the district is taking steps to ensure student safety. Those steps include many of the of the common themes since the pandemic began – ensuring social distancing when possible, cleaning regularly, etc.
The district finally on Friday responded, and said they would lose $33 million if they instituted virtual schooling (declining to explain how).
By Sunday, district officials were making plans to offer it, with no explanation for how things could have changed so quickly in the course of a few days.
School districts’ funding in Texas, in most years, is determined by its average daily attendance, which is a calculation for the attendance of an average school day and separate from the total number of students enrolled in a school district, according to the Texas Education Agency (TEA). During the early stages of the pandemic, state education officials waived this requirement, and essentially told districts their funding would remain unaltered.
A law to continue funding some virtual schooling this upcoming year withered on the vine in the Texas Legislature, when House Bill 1468 failed to pass. The measure would have allowed districts across Texas to continue to offer some virtual attendance and receive the same amount of funding.
Despite that, some districts have opted to offer virtual school anyway, and cover the difference with federal stimulus money. Austin ISD is one such district.
The Delta variant has further exacerbated things, leading many parents who might have felt better about sending children back to school months ago, but who are now understandably a little nervous.
The argument some districts might make, however, that they are simply not in a position to take such a large financial hit, especially when the pandemic causes so many other issues, is not unconvincing.
But if our local Fort Bend County school districts are going to bring parents to an understanding, or come to an agreement, it’s critical to say the quiet part out loud.
Frankly, I suspect many districts are reticent to answer forthrightly because they’re scared of uncomfortable conversations. But it’s only through such talk that we can emerge better off than we were before.
Financial and health concerns are, unfortunately, part and parcel with being in the midst of a global pandemic. The lack of communication thus far from the powers that be is not.