Sealy ISD presents back-to-school options

Online, in-person learning will be offered

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After the Sealy ISD Board of Trustees was presented with the return-to-school plan created by district leaders at last Wednesday’s regular meeting, the district is awaiting survey results from families and staff before finalizing the plan.

Superintendent Bryan Hallmark said he would let the community digest the proposed plan over the weekend and on Monday, July 27, the surveys were released on social media pages.

“We greatly need input,” Hallmark said at the end of the presentation. “This is not set in stone, if we get good feedback and we get recommendations that make sense to keep students safe, we’re going to change our plans accordingly.”

The follow-up survey features four multiple-choice questions gauging the family’s decision on the learning option and asks their comfortability with cleaning, personal protective equipment and reporting protocols laid out in the plan. It concludes with an open-ended, write-in question asking for any other suggestions or concerns in returning to school.

Assistant Superintendent Chris Summers led the presentation of the plan at the meeting and he was aided by Hallmark, Executive Director of Human Resources and Operations Shawn Hiatt, Project Manager Mike Zapalac, Chief Financial Officer Lisa Svoboda and Special Education Director Shae Whatley in providing a full array of guidelines and protocols to be followed entering the 2020-2021 year.

Learning options

There will be both an in-person and online version of school in Sealy ISD but Summers emphasized that 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.”

Recent guidelines released by the Texas Education Agency will 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.

Reporting cases

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.”

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.”

Face coverings

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.

Project Manager Report

Zapalac provided the following updates in his report which concluded last Wednesday’s meeting

  • CTE projects will be completed under budget
  • Agriculture barn should be finished by the end of the month
  • Culinary kitchen will be done before school starts
  • High School track resurfacing will be completed in early August, weather permitting
  • Sealy Elementary paving project went out for bid, Zapalac said he’d have bids in hand to present to the board Aug. 7
  • Interlocal discussions were had regarding drainage at Sealy Junior High School and Maggie B. Selman Elementary School

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