County wants 8 weeks online learning for schools

At a time when most area school districts have already announced their fall reopening plans, Harris County officials are asking superintendents to institute online learning only for the first eight weeks of the 2020-21 school year.

County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Dr. Umair Shah, executive director of Harris County Public Health, sent a letter to district superintendents across the county outlining a series of health and safety recommendations amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hidalgo and Shah urged schools to follow new Texas Education Agency provisions allowing an eight-week online instruction waiver, halting in-person instruction until at least October.

HISD, the largest school district in the state with 209,000 students and 280 campuses, recently announced that it would begin the school year on Sept. 8, with virtual instruction for all students continuing for six weeks through Oct. 16.

Hidalgo and Shah said the county is facing an extremely challenging time with the “severe and uncontrolled spread” of COVID-19.

“The fastest way to reopen our schools over the long haul is to flatten and — just as importantly — substantially bring down our hospitalization curve,” they said.

“…We know that this has been a very challenging time for everyone in our community — and particularly so for students, teachers and parents.

“In-person instruction is vital for the educational development and social wellbeing of children and young adults. In addition to their key roles in learning, schools promote the development of social and emotional skills and offer opportunities for physical activities.

“For low-income families, schools also provide much needed food assistance by offering students healthy meals and access to resources they may not otherwise have.”

“We must come to grips with the fact that in order to learn and grow, students must be healthy and safe. That means not setting arbitrary dates for reopening schools that provide false hope, dates this virus does not recognize or respect. Instead, our focus should be on thresholds and on developing measured reopening plans.”

RECOMMENDATIONS

  • In-person, face-to-face instruction should not be made available for any grades until October 2020.
  • School boards should work with local and state governments and community partners to accommodate families who lack internet access or devices.
  • All school-sponsored activities, including extracurriculars and academic and athletic competitions, should not take place in-person or off-campus until school systems resume on-campus learning
  • Schools should develop a written plan with safety and health protocols for resuming in-person instruction and extracurricular activities and make the plan available to parents and the public.