In-Person and Remote Learning Options
By Will Johnson
GRAPELAND – With the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year less than a month away and the specter of COVID-19 looming over education in the state of Texas, the Grapeland Independent School District Board of Trustees presented their plans for re-opening GISD facilities during a regularly scheduled meeting held on Monday, July 20.
“We are starting school on Aug. 19,” GISD Superintendent Don Jackson said. “We will start with a four- and-a-half day week for the first three weeks. On Fridays, we will be out half-a-day. The reason we are doing this is to give the teachers a chance for some professional development concerning remote and in-person instruction.”
Concerning this, Jackson said the state of Texas asked all school districts to have a Learning Management System (LMS) in place to open the year.
An LMS is a software application for the administration, documentation, tracking, reporting, automation and delivery of educational courses, training programs, or learning and development programs, according to the Texas Education Agency (TEA).
“Our LMS at the secondary school is called Edgenuity. At the elementary it will be Odysseyware. What we would like to do, ideally, is the first three weeks of school – everyone – we are going to invite everyone to come to school so we can teach them how to navigate the system. If they choose not to come to school, we will have to make arrangements by appointment with them so that the remote learners will learn how to navigate the LMS, both students and parents,” Jackson explained.
If a student chooses to use the remote learning offered by GISD, the student is required to be logged in and engaged with the software application for at least four hours a day.
“Odysseyware and Edgenuity actually both count your active, online time. You can’t just log on and not do any work. The program will basically tell us how much a student is engaged,” he said.
Concerning those who choose to participate in the in-person learning at the GISD facilities, Jackson said they will be subject to all the protocols necessary to mitigate COVID-19.
“The parents have to self-screen their kids before they send them to school. We have isolation protocols once they are in school and if they are diagnosed with symptoms, they are immediately separated from their peers. Our students will be in masks. We will institute times during the day where they don’t have to have their masks on, so we can make them as comfortable as we can. The mask is so very important because close contact is defined by TEA as if a student is in close contact with another student who is diagnosed with COVID-19, they have to leave school. But, if they have their mask on it will not be defined as close contact. Without a mask and 15 minutes in the presence of someone who has been found out to have COVID-19 is when you are exposed. That is what TEA defines close contact as. Those face coverings – we’re putting a lot of stock in those things,” Jackson said.
He went on to say, however, the school district would follow Gov. Greg Abbott’s orders concerning the virus. This includes the stipulation if the county falls below the 20 case threshold, masks will not be required.
“School can still be shut down,” Jackson cautioned, “if we have an active case of COVID-19, but only for one to five days so we can do a deep cleaning. That is the difference in the last school year and this one. The TEA is trying to set it up to where number one, if they’re not in school, they have a viable program they are on which will continue their learning. They did not take away the STAAR test. The TEA is expecting us to teach and to learn. Number two, not only do they have a viable program but it’s a situation where if the student comes to school, we have to practice protocols which will mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Handwashing, sanitizing stations, disinfecting will be constants throughout the year.”
Another area the superintendent addressed was social distancing. He said the district had developed guidelines for transitions between classes.
“We are looking at starting school with days where even periods are one day and odd periods are the next day and the classes are longer so the students don’t have to transition as much. We are talking about turning off our bells and studying the patterns the kids walk so we can put them in a situation where they can social distance, even during transitions,” he explained.
Transportation was also discussed. Jackson indicated he would like to see families sit together and said hand sanitizer would be provided upon entering and exiting a bus. He also expressed a desire to have a seat between bus-riders, when possible.
“In every situation,” he continued, “we are thinking about ways to mitigate the spread. When students arrive at school, instead of sitting in the lunchroom, there will be designated areas where they can space out. Our breakfast and lunch has even changed. Breakfast can be served in the classroom now. Lunch – to start the school year – we will probably do a lot of grab-and-go lunches where the food is not exposed while it sits out. Kids will not be elbow-to-elbow at lunch as they will spread out around the campus. Even recess, we want to have recess for our elementary students but instead of having a playground that is full, it will be more-timely where classes will go to recess together.”
Jackson said the official back-to-school plan would be released later this week “… so we can let our parents and students know what to expect. Our survey that we gave to our parents, I believe we had 75 percent of the parents who responded say their children would be coming back. The other 25 percent said they were considering remote learning.”
Another area discussed during the meeting concerned participation in extracurricular activities if a student chooses the remote learning path.
“The UIL has told us it is a local decision if an athlete, band member or cheerleader – any extracurricular activity – it us up to us to decide if you want to let remote learners to participate in extracurricular activities,” Jackson said.
Board President James Martin asked the board members for their input and when no one spoke up initially, Jackson expressed his thoughts on the matter to the board.
“Basically, I think it is a conflict of interest. If you cannot come to school due to the fear of catching the virus, but you can come up here and play football or whatever, it paints a picture for our kids that the extracurricular activities are more important than the academics. We struggle enough with that. We are trying to get our kids to see the importance of academics while the extracurricular goes along as an enhancement,” he said.
High School Principal Katie Doughty added exceptions would be made if students were enrolled in dual credit or college courses.
Following a few minutes of discussion, the board passed a resolution excluding students who chose the remote learning option from participating in extracurricular activities.
In other matters brought before the board:
- The administrative staff was praised by the superintendent for their diligent planning to get the school year started. The district staff was also commended for their response to the tragic death of GHS students David Dunn.
- It was reported GISD is purchasing more technology and is moving closer to the one-to-one initiative for students. An Increase in bandwidth has also been purchased to improve usability.
- The trustees approved contracts with Region 6 ESC.
- The budget planning calendar for the 2020-2021 school year was approved. The budget meetings will be held on Aug. 10, Aug. 17 and Aug. 27.
- The 2020-2021 employee handbook was approved by the board.
- Student transfers were also approved by the board.
- It was determined Raychel Shaw would be helping the district prepare to have licensed handgun carriers on campus for the students’ and staff’s protection.
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.