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Waco ISD will offer both in-person and remote instruction for 2020-2021

Waco ISD will offer both in-person and remote instruction for 2020-2021
Superintendent also recommends delaying the start of school until Sept. 8.

WACO, Texas – Waco ISD families will be able to choose between full-time in-person instruction and full-time remote instruction when classes resume in the fall. The first day of school, though, could be delayed until Sept. 8. Those changes are part of the plan that Dr. Susan Kincannon, superintendent, presented to the district’s school board during a virtual meeting held earlier tonight.

“Beginning in June, I convened a task force of educators, campus leaders, district administrators and community members to help us develop a plan for next school year that fully reflects the unique needs of our families,” Kincannon said. “The result is a plan that focuses on the safety of our students and staff while complying with the state’s mandates – at least as they exist today.”

At this time, the Texas Education Agency is requiring school districts to provide a full-time on-campus, in-person instruction for every family that wants it. Waco ISD is also offering a full-time remote learning option after hearing from families and teachers that they are uncomfortable with campuses reopening.

In surveys conducted by the district, 67.3% of families and 62.5% of teachers said that they were somewhat or very uncomfortable about schools reopening for in-person instruction.

From a range of instructional options, including both remote and in-person instruction as well as several hybrid options, 33.8% of families and 22.4% of teachers said that they would prefer fully remote instruction.

“One thing is clear,” Kincannon said. “Whether our families choose in-person or remote instruction, this school year will be unlike any other year. Even our remote instruction will be different than what our students experienced this past spring.”

According to district officials, Waco ISD has invested about $2.5 million in devices for students this summer. The district also has several initiatives underway to expand internet access for students, including a partnership with the Waco Housing Authority to expand access at Estella Maxey Place, Kate Ross Homes and South Terrace Apartments.

Kincannon also praised the district’s curriculum and instruction staff for working through the summer to revise the district’s curriculum and better align it with state standards. Students learning remotely will access the updated curriculum through new districtwide learning management systems intended to provide a more consistent learning experience from class to class and campus to campus.

Students learning in person will also see a number of changes when they return to school. Schools will conduct daily health and temperature screenings for all staff and students. Masks will be required for all students and staff when they are in shared spaces. Additional hand sanitizing stations are being added throughout buildings. To help promote social distancing, signage will also be added, and spaces are being reconfigured.

“There are significant logistical and operational details that still need to be worked out, and at the same time, the current spread of the virus in our community is deeply worrisome,” Kincannon said. “As a result, I am recommending that we wait to start school until after Labor Day. The additional time will help us implement important health and safety measures as well as provide additional professional development for our staff. It might also provide some time for the rapid increase in cases to slow.”

In January, the school board adopted a calendar that set Aug. 18 as the first day of school with classes ending on May 27, 2021. Under the proposed calendar, which can be found at wacoisd.org/proposedcalendar, students would start school on Sept. 8 and end on June 10, 2021. Student and staff holidays would remain the same.

The board will consider whether or not to approve the revised calendar at their next meeting on July 23.

Kincannon also discussed something that is not included in the district’s plan: a hybrid instructional option that combines both in-person and remote instruction. In the district’s surveys, a majority of both families and teachers expressed a preference for some type of hybrid option.

“The appeal of a hybrid instructional option is that it would allow students to receive in-person instruction, while also reducing the potential for exposure to the virus, by limiting the number of students on a campus at one time,” Kincannon said. “Unfortunately, the state’s mandates have made it nearly impossible to offer a hybrid schedule.”

Citing the requirement that school districts provide full-time in-person instruction for every student whose family wants it, Kincannon said that districts cannot guarantee that a hybrid schedule would actually reduce the number of students on a campus at the same time. She also pointed to the difficulty that teachers would have simultaneously serving both fully in-person and hybrid students.

“Governor Abbott has said that school districts should have the flexibility to respond to local public health conditions,” Kincannon said. “If he is serious about that, the state should allow school districts to offer a hybrid schedule that combines in-person and remote instruction in lieu of full-time in-person instruction.”

Families in Waco ISD will be able to begin selecting either in-person or remote instruction on July 27 as part of the registration process for the 2020-2021 school year. Families that have already registered will receive an email with instructions on how to make their selections through the district’s online parent portal.

Families are asked to commit to either in-person or remote instruction for at least a six-week grading period. If a family wishes to change the instructional model selected for a student, the change needs to be made at least two weeks before the start of the grading period.

Kincannon will host a virtual town hall for families to ask questions about the plan for the 2020-2021 school year at 6 p.m. on Tuesday. Families will receive a call inviting them to join the event when it starts, and it will be conducted in both English and Spanish. A livestream of the event will also be available on Waco ISD’s Facebook page and at wacoisd.org/townhall.

July 17, 2020