After thanking the teachers, administrators, parents and students in Houston ISD for their support and flexibility in wrapping up the 2019-20 school year, interim superintendent Grenita Lathan outlined the options for school in 2020-21 on Friday.
Lathan said the district is looking at a variety of options.
“We are prepared to continue HISD at Home for the 2020-21 school year,” Lathan said.
In-person options are to have students attend classes on A and B days to keep in-person numbers lower. Another is to extend an in-person school day by 30 minutes. And the final option – which is getting the most attention – is moving to a year-round school calendar. This option was recently outlined in recommendations by the Texas Education Agency.
Lathan said HISD would follow CDC guidelines as well as state and local directives in making the final decision, which she said is about four weeks away.
Lathan said that for the TEA year-round designation, first the HISD board would have to approve the idea and then it would go out to stakeholders for consideration. This is separate from the District of Innovation status, which the board voted to pursue in a 7-2 vote at its Thursday night meeting.
Such a designation would allow the district more flexibility in scheduling, hiring and issuing class credit to students, but the changes would not be able to implement until the 2021-22 school year.
With any path, Lathan said there would be challenges and acknowledged that the district already has students who are one or more grades behind. Approximately 40,000 students will attend summer school – online – from June 8-July 2.
“It could take us three to five years (to catch up academically),” she said.
Lathan said 95 percent of HISD’s 206,000 students had connected online during at-home learning and that the district was reaching out to the other 5 percent, or about 10,300 students. She said that when HISD communicated its grading policy for the last quarter – in which grades would not be counted unless they improved a student’s final grade – the district noticed a drop in participation.
If online learning continues in the fall, Lathan said there would have to be more software used and standardization in the process.
There will also be an assessment of where students are academically at the start of the school year, with an early virtual boot camp for at-risk students if needed.
To that end, Lathan also addressed the “harsh divide” in online access as according to HISD, 35 percent of students don’t have Internet at home. She said the district has worked to issue hot spots and laptops to students who need them, most recently purchasing another 25,000 laptops to prepare for the future. Lathan said the HISD @ Home hotline has fielded 23,000 calls for assistance.
Other challenges include transportation, since HISD buses students across town to attend their chosen school.
Lathan said teacher contacts, which are about to be sent out, only have a new cover letter asking them for flexibility in uncertain times. She said there are no plans to furlough teachers.
“If we ask (teachers) to do more, then we will compensate them for it,” she said.
A group of small but vocal protesters were outside the fence of HISD headquarters during Lathan’s Thursday news conference, venting their frustration about virtual graduation.
“They have the outdoor stadiums but they won’t use them,” said one parent.
Lathan said the decision to have virtual graduation ceremonies was one of her most difficult. However, she said the idea of asking police to have to enforce social distancing and mask mandates was challenging and possibly problematic.