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Waco ISD considering delaying start of school year until after Labor Day

School board to vote on revised calendar at its next meeting on July 23rd
Published: Jul. 16, 2020 at 5:18 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 16, 2020 at 6:18 PM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - Waco ISD officials are proposing to delay the start of classes until after Labor Day as they plan for a fall term amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

WISD Superintendent Dr. Susan Kincannon presented the plan to Waco School Board members Thursday evening.

“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.”

Kincannon said the additional time will help the school district “implement important health and safety measures as well as provide additional professional development for our staff.”

While WISD’s proposed plan, which was developed by a 50-member COVID-19 task force, has been in the works since graduation, Kincannon said the situation was still fluid and everything could change Friday (for all Texas school districts, not just WISD) following a scheduled announcement from the Texas Education Agency.

“Nothing is set in stone,” said Kincannon.

Many hope that announcement will allow for more flexibility as far as the agency’s current mandate for schools to have five days of in-person learning a week and a 90-percent attendance requirement.

About 15 people submitted comments to the WISD school board Thursday night--most were against WISD reopening with in-person instruction.

“We can being children back from academic losses,” the Waco NAACP Chapter said in a letter. “It will be impossible to bring dead children back to life.”

Many of the commenters suggested teachers have the same options as families when deciding on in-person or remote instruction.

“Teachers and students who want to work from campus--let them, teachers and students who want to work online from home--let them,” said Rachel Crawford, a retired teacher and wife of a Waco ISD teacher and mother of a graduate. “If Waco ISD is required to open campuses in the height of a historic pandemic, I would like to see them protect students, teachers and staff equally based on hard science, not on politics.”

She says, since school boards, the TEA, and the Governor are all holding virtual meetings, teachers should be given the same option.

“I think its unjust that school staff and teachers are not being offered the same protections,” said Crawford.

In January, the school board adopted a calendar that set August 18 as the first day of school with classes ending on May 27, 2021.

Under the newly-proposed calendar, students would start school on September 8 and end on June 10, 2021.

Crawford, and others, support a delayed start.

“In the push to open schools, if we do it prematurely and cause an outbreak of COVID-19, we could end up having to keep them closed much longer,” said Crawford.

Student and staff holidays would remain the same, the district said.

The school board will vote on whether to accept or reject the revised calendar at its next meeting on July 23.

As in other districts, parents will have a choice between on-campus or remote instruction, although more than 50% of WISD families and teachers surveyed said they would prefer a hybrid model incorporating both.

Under the current TEA Guidelines, hybrid learning isn’t an option, Kincannon said.

“We would love to do that, however, the state has made that very difficult and hasn’t given us the ability to do so because of the funding mechanism that’s tied to attendance,” Kincannon said.

The district is receiving $2.5 million worth of laptop devices, nearly 8,000 in all, but Kincannon said she’s not sure whether they’ll all arrive before the start of school.

She’s also looking at the possibility of purchasing hot-spots to improve home access.

Board members were expected to vote on WISD’s proposed plan next week.

Trustee Cary DuPuy acknowledged, it was going to e impossible to please everyone.

“We’ve got three groups to make happy: students, teachers, and families,” he said. “Students remain number one, that’s why we’re here.”

The TEA has said STAAR testing will be administered as usual in the Spring.

Kincannon says they have enough teachers, and if the plan is approved, student preferences will determine how many of them will be assigned to in-person v. remote instruction, but their health backgrounds would be taken into consideration.

“We will be working with everybody on their individual needs,” said Kincannon. “It’s going to be a year of adjusting.”

The district is hosting a teleconference town hall meeting with parents at 6 p.m. on July 21.

Seventh-grade math teacher Jennifer Hartline, founder of the Texas Teacher Safety Initiative, says she thinks Texas schools shouldn’t reopen for in-person instruction until positivity rates come down.

“Keep schools closed and allow education to continue virtually until the infection rate of COVID is less than a half a percent,” she said.

Hartline is one of potentially thousands of teachers planning to attend the Rally for Safe School Opening at 10 a.m. Saturday in Austin.

“Teachers have historically been taught to stay quiet and accept the status quo...when it comes to our lives we are not going to sit back when it comes to our students or the other teacher,” she said. “If an active shooter was coming into the building I would put myself between the shooter and my students. That’s what I am doing now with this disease. I am putting myself between this disease and their families.”

What you need to know about the new coronavirus and its impact on Central Texas.

(Drake Lawson contributed to this story)

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