The Kerrville Independent School District will push back the start of its 2020-21 school year to Aug. 24 — one week later than it had anticipated starting.
During a video conference on Monday night, KISD’s board of trustees unanimously approved a plan to delay the start to give district staff more time to adjust to the concerns raised by the coronavirus pandemic.
“This gives us a little bit more time to do this,” Superintendent Mark Foust said. “We just need the time to meet. I think we will start the year better by doing this. We haven’t been with our staff since March 12.”
Foust told trustees that this plan gives the district staff more time to work with teachers and others on how to adjust to a combination of in-class learning and for students who will be learning virtually.
The move echoes those that other school districts in the Hill Country are taking or expected to take. Center Point has also moved the start of its school year to Aug. 24.
The challenge for district staff, which has consumed the district’s administration for weeks, will be changing schedules for students and staff as much as every six weeks, or if the virus intensifies leading to possible school shutdowns.
Foust spent about an hour of the meeting to describe to the seven-member Board of Trustees about the dual-plan to offer both in-person and virtual learning.
Under the plan, parents can toggle between virtual and in-class learning every six weeks — the end of each grading period.
The district’s plan also requires considerable change to the daily routine for children from first grade through 12th grade. Mask wearing is mandatory. Teachers will be equipped with personal protective equipment. Health checks will be performed before students arrive on campus. The campuses will also be less accessible to parents and visitors.
While other districts have opted to push the start of the school year for in-class instruction to Sept. 8, Foust said this was the right way to start based on parent feedback.
A district survey found two-thirds of parents in the district wanted their children to return to in-class instruction, but he also cautioned that the survey that gathered that data was done in June before Texas experienced a significant spike in coronavirus cases.
The Texas Education Agency allowed school districts could start school virtually for four weeks without local school board approval. The state would also allow an additional four weeks, but only with school board approval.
Foust said that he expects the school year to be “tumultuous” due to the uncertainty the virus has caused.
Another issue remains the shifting guidance and mandates from the state. Right now, according to Foust, the district cannot be shutdown for more than five days without losing state funding.
The state expects districts to meet 70,000 minutes of instruction time, Foust said.
The school year, under KISD’s plan, would still end on May 28, but there remains plenty of flexibility in the district calendar for the year.
Two Tivy High School teachers spoke about the return-to-school plan, including one who said many teachers in the district were scared to return to campus for in-person instruction.
“I appreciate the mitigation factors that KISD has taken,” teacher Travis Butler said “I don’t feel like we should be frontline workers. I love my students and miss them terribly. TEA has provided us a window to pause and open. I’m asking the board to delay until after Labor Day.”
Foust also noted that two district teachers resigned over concerns about the spread of coronavirus.
“We are acutely aware that our staff is the most vulnerable,” Foust said. “We respect and honor their decisions.”
One parent, Brandon Aery, said that the district should look at the data and said that coronavirus was not as deadly or as serious as the seasonal flu to children to justify delaying in-class instruction. Aery argued that the harm to students by not connecting with classmates or teachers would outweigh the benefits of mitigation for coronavirus.
The virus has killed 11 younger than 18 in Texas since March, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services data released Monday. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, however, said that less than 10 Texas children died from seasonal flu in 2018.
In Texas, about 4% of the infections have been those 10-19 years of age, and there’s shifting consensus on the rate of the virus being spread from children to adults.
More than 70% of the infections in Texas are those 20-59 years of age — the core of KISD’s workforce.
Foust said he expected to have more resignations due to the virus.
The board also unanimously approved a plan to spend more than $100,000 to purchase 371 iPads to help with virtual learning. Some of the funds will come from federal Title I money, while an additional source would be from delaying a phone system upgrade.
The district is also working to amplify its ability to improve WiFi connectivity across the district by exploring a plan to equip school buses with WiFi to edges of the district in an attempt to boost signal strength — often a challenge in the Hill Country.