Highland Park ISD Superintendent Dr. Tom Trigg recommended that the district start the 2020-2021 school year with emergency remote learning August 20 and begin in-person learning Sept. 8.
Trigg’s recommendation follows new guidance from the Texas Education Agency and Attorney General Ken Paxton last week. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced Wednesday that school systems can offer remote-only instruction, subject to some requirements, for the first eight weeks of the school year as part of a transition period. The TEA’s new guidance followed Paxton’s non-binding letter, which said that local health authorities can’t close schools just to prevent future COVID-19 infections.
“Based upon all the feedback and input that I’ve received, I believe what’s in the best interest of our entire community, particularly our students and our staff, is that we start with our emergency closure schedule. We have said since the beginning of our planning the school year more than two months ago that our top priority is (the) health and safety of our students, staff, parents, and community,” Trigg said. “Yes, we have conflicting direction from the county and the state, I’m well aware of that. That doesn’t diminish in any way our responsibility as a school district to be ready for students and staff when in-person instruction begins.”
Trigg added that remote instruction, as well as special education services will be more robust than they were in the spring, and the district plans to release campus-level plans ‘in the very near future.’
“Those will vary somewhat between levels–between the elementary level, intermediate, middle, and then high school…at the elementary level, for example, they’re working on drop off and pick up. How do we best manage that in such a way that it minimizes contact of individuals? How does the timing need to work for that? How many entrances should we allow students to come in?” Trigg said.
He added that campus administrators are also talking about how lunches will work and how to provide as much space as possible for that.
Trigg also said an alternative they’re considering is the potential of a hybrid schedule for the high school.
Trustee Tom Sharpe spoke about the goals of the district’s reopening committee.
“We have two overriding objectives. One is to make online learning excellent, make it very effective so that any child whose parent chooses to have that child online and remote has the exact same educational benefit or as close as we possibly can make it to what somebody sitting in the classroom has,” Sharpe said. “The second equally important objective is to make our campuses as safe as possible while taking into consideration some practical realities for the school day.”
Sharpe also addressed Paxton’s guidance.
“I think there’s a public perception out there that Dallas County made one pronouncement and then the attorney general made a second one and that was backed up by the governor’s office and the lieutenant governor’s office and so that just negated what Dallas County put out,” Sharpe said. “I’ve listened to some smart lawyers who’ve explained that’s not exactly accurate.”
Board President Jim Hitzelberger also addressed the guidance.
“It doesn’t mean we abandon our process…and our process for this was to have a committee…with two board members work on this, spend tons of time on it, and bring a recommendation back to the board,” Hitzelberger said. “Could the board vote on this? Absolutely, the board can vote on anything, but our process is that they brought a recommendation, I’m not hearing from any other board members that they want to take it out of the hands of this committee, so our process is our process.”
As school districts continue to pivot their plans for the 2020-2021 school year, we want to capture a snapshot of how Highland Park ISD parents are navigating the decision-making process to decide whether remote learning or in-person instruction is right for their families. Parents can take our survey here.