Texas school districts pushing forward amid constant change and challenges

March 27, 2020 |

Texas school districts will vary in how they respond to the COVID-19 Situation. And that’s okay.

By Bob Popinski
Director of Policy at Raise Your Hand Texas

Sometimes all you need is a warm smile, or kind sentiment, to get you through hard times. 

I thought about that this week as thousands of students across Texas reconnected with teachers they hadn’t seen in a couple of weeks.

In some cases, classes convened through online meeting applications like Zoom and Google Hangouts. In education, this is called synchronous discussion — where students meet and learn together. In other cases, teachers sent emails or made phone calls and shared individual assignments that students could print or complete online. We call this providing asynchronous content. Teachers and students alike are learning new tools and processes to navigate these platforms and approaches to instruction.

As Texas schools mobilize to meet the challenges of this situation, we will see a wide variety of methods used by districts, all of whom face both similar and unique challenges during this difficult time. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) provided districts with a framework to help guide the launch of what the TEA is now calling At-home Schools. The goal is to maximize the amount of instructional time for students this school year and support student mastery of grade-level standards.

What does this mean for teachers, school leaders, and students? 

It means we will need to adjust. As my friend Brandon Bayne, an associate professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, wrote in his adjusted syllabus, “Some assignments are no longer possible. Some expectations are no longer reasonable.” In addition to the time typically spent assessing students’ needs and planning lessons, teachers will need time to establish new norms and routines. They will need even more time than usual to determine student needs.

What does this mean for school funding?

Our state leaders have provided reassurance they will fully fund our public schools during this time, as long as districts provide instructional continuity. Although declines in sales tax collections and the declining price of oil will impact revenue, state officials have said they don’t want districts to worry.

“There is zero reason for a teacher or support staff at a local school district to not be paid,” Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen said.” I don’t want a teacher in Texas or a janitorial service or a food service person today or in the future worried about their paycheck because of what is going on.”

Though waivers will be granted to allow schools to use weather and closure days for some of the days missed, schools must continue to deliver instruction for the remainder of the year.

What does this mean for school districts?

The state also gave guidance on what it expects of districts. 

Districts are expected to provide school meals. More than 60% of our students qualify for the free or reduced-price lunch program. Districts must ensure online systems can support different learning and teaching needs. Districts must also provide access to learning, including technology, and meet the requirements of each special education student’s Individual Education Plan.

Fort Bend ISD is partnering with the Houston Food Bank to feed families in need.

The state also provided additional guidelines on testing and grade promotion. This year’s STAAR test has been canceled, and promotion decisions for students in 5th and 8th grade will be based on students’ grades and teachers’ evaluations. High school students that complete instruction this semester can graduate or meet grade requirements without taking End-of-Course exams. Meanwhile, high school seniors who need to retake End-of-Course exams may need to complete a portfolio to graduate. They will be appointed a committee of their teachers, guardians, and educators who will determine whether the student can graduate. 

For many, especially this year’s high school seniors, this is a sad and frustrating time. There will likely be cancellations of graduation ceremonies and proms, athletics seasons, and UIL events. 

While the immediate circumstances are frustrating, confusing, and challenging for millions, there lie opportunities to learn and grow from every crisis. Right now, educators and parents can help students work through the assortment of emotions that are natural in these times. We can help students connect with classmates and teachers as best they can through technology and distance learning platforms. Another positive consequence of this crisis could be that more students consider careers as doctors, nurses, researchers, epidemiologists, and even teachers because of the important role they play in leading our state in times of need. And maybe, just maybe, students will be able to look back on this time and realize their newfound ability to adapt and move forward, even in times of high-change and uncertainty. That is a priceless skill that will benefit them long into the future, not only in the workplace but also in life.

We'd love to hear from you!

We’re looking for stories from students, teachers, and school leaders about your experiences, challenges, and strategies you think might benefit others. Please share your perspectives and let us know how you’re approaching and responding to the current situation. And know that you are not alone in these struggles. We thank you, we honor you, and we want you to know we are cheering you on.

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