Sealy ISD leaders presented the board of trustees with the return-to-school plan at Wednesday’s regular meeting in the Sealy Junior High School cafeteria with an audience of around 30 socially distant parents and students.
Superintendent Bryan Hallmark, Assistant Superintendent Chris Summers, Executive Director of Human Resources and Operations Shawn Hiatt, Project Manager Mike Zapalac, Chief Financial Officer Lisa Svoboda and Special Education Director Shae Whatley tag-teamed presenting the guidelines and protocols Sealy ISD will follow entering the 2020-2021 school year.
Summers reiterated the plan presented still was not set in stone and more adjustments could be made after a second round of parent and staff surveys that will be sent out starting July 27.
There will be both an in-person and online version of school in Sealy ISD but Summers emphasized that the online learning will be much more rigorous than what was seen at the end of last school year. He said students were given an average of three hours of schoolwork per week when school shut down after spring break but this year, students will receive three to four hours of schoolwork per day.
Four of the members of the audience signed up to speak during the public comments to open the meeting and all addressed the pass-fail situation which they said was unfair to students’ grade-point averages. Although the board could not take action on the comments, the step up in online learning requirements were made to even the playing field between students going to class in person and virtually, Summers said.
“If parents and students choose remote learning, it will look fundamentally different than what they experienced in March, April and May of last year,” Summers said. “Last year when the remote learning hit us out of nowhere, hardly any district in the state was prepared to roll out a robust, challenging, apples-to-apples learning experience from what kids had when they came to the school.”
Another difference in remote learning this year came from the latest set of Texas Education Agency guidelines that say remote learners will have to interact daily with instructional material.
“You can’t get all your work Monday, knock it all out Monday and Tuesday if you’re so motivated and then Wednesday, Thursday and Friday not engage,” Summers said. “There’s an expectation depending upon your grade. It could span anywhere from at least three hours a day to at least four hours a day of academic work.”
The TEA guidelines will also require parents and students to lock in their choice of online or face-to-face learning for a full grading period. Summers said about two weeks prior to the next nine-week grading period, families will be given the opportunity to either change their learning platform or continue with what they have been doing.
Summers said another important detail of the symbiotic progress made in both online and in-person formats could come into play if students or faculty have to spend time at home after either testing positive for COVID-19 or being exposed to someone who tested positive.
Hallmark laid out the protocol for if a positive case of COVID-19 is found within the district, saying another TEA guideline will bar the infected individual from returning to campus until they meet certain criteria.
Those steps also consider close-contact criteria where if others were within six feet of the infected individual without a mask and had direct exposure to infectious secretions for a duration of 15 cumulative minutes, they will be treated as a positive case as well.
“If someone tests positive for COVID-19 in a classroom, will other students in the classroom be sent home to quarantine?” Hallmark posed. “The answer is it depends and what it depends upon is whether or not that student meets the close-contact criteria. … That is why we’re going to require masks for students and staff in certain areas because the use of a mask could prevent you from getting exposed, even during close-contact situations.”
The next step will be communicating the cases to the public but the superintendent said only certain information will be available to the public while those directly affected will receive a phone call.
“We have to balance the need for the public to know what’s going on and to be transparent, but also to protect the individual rights of our students and employees,” Hallmark said. “We’ll give as much information as we possibly can without exposing who that case is and violating their privacy. What you can expect across the board is the campus and grade level.”
According to the recent TEA guidelines, students from fifth grade up will be required to wear a mask at all times during the day but Hallmark said there will likely be time built into the day to give the students a break from wearing them as it’s hard for anyone to wear it for up to eight hours straight.
Students in fourth grade and below will have the option to not wear a mask but Hiatt said Sealy ISD will provide all students with two face-covering options: a two-ply, reversible cloth mask with adjustable ear holes as well as a neck gaiter. Teachers will all receive a clear face shield to use when presenting classroom instruction to allow the students to still see their face and read their lips if need be.