If you're going to set out to go virtual-only for at least the first six weeks of school, it has to be somewhat disheartening to hear that there's been a run on Google Chrome books while there are still 23,000 Houston ISD students waiting for a device.
You also probably didn't want to hear that in HISD's own survey of its parents in which 66,069 households responded to questions, more than a quarter of the respondents said there was no "caregiver available to help children with schoolwork" and another 18.2 percent were unsure whether anyone would be able to take on those duties.
Houston ISD trustees met in a special meeting with Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan and her administrative staff Thursday night to try to nail down more details in the "Reconnect Safely, Return Strong" reopening plan designed to try to best negotiate the pandemic that still grips the city. As previously reported, an HISD survey of teachers showed only 14 percent of those who responded said they wanted in-person classes right now.
Trustees were told that because demand for the Chrome books "is through the roof" as one administrator put it, explaining that some wouldn't arrive until November or December, that the district is switching at least part of its purchases to Windows PCs.
"We are not just saying that we are going to give the student a device. We'r also verifying that they have access to reliable internet, " Lathan said.
After hearing from a few parents and teachers — some of whom applauded the district's decision not to start school till September 8 and not to resume in-person classes until October 19, while others did not — Lathan readily acknowledged that some students will need extra help and talked about bringing in tutors to back up the classroom teachers. The need for extra support was especially cited for special ed.
"We are hiring additional tutors that will support our students," she said.
Of course, that's if they can reach all the students. HISD's own data shows more than 7,500 students never connected to the virtual learning classes that were going on late in the spring term after COVID-19 hit the area. But as they found out, even reaching some students isn't enough.
Almost 25,000 students were reached by the school district but didn't apply themselves to the virtual lessons on offer.
"Attendance will count and grades will count," Lathan said of the coming semester despite calls from some parents that stringent requirements for both be waived while students are still dealing with and recovering from the trauma of an unprecedented situation with the pandemic. Grades and attendance are not determined by a local school board or the administration of a school district but set by the Texas Education Agency, she stressed. In what sounded more like college than a K-12 approach, students will have until 11:59 p.m. each weekday to hand in that day's assignments, Lathan said.
The issue of bus transportation came up as well. The Texas Education Agency says there should be no more than 26 students on a bus at a time to enable social distancing. What that would mean for HISD, Lathan said, is that only special ed students and those with other special needs might be riding the buses.
Parents will be able to request their children stay in virtual classes or return to on-campus instruction but will need to do so in six-week chunks which align with the grading periods for all students this year. Discussions are still ongoing about the possibility of a hybrid approach with some classes in person — particularly necessary for students in vocational classes such as welding who have to perform certain tasks to get their certifications.
And then, of course there's the usual "summer slide" now made even worse by what Lathan referred to as "COVID loss" as the district tries to figure out the best way to evaluate where students are now in their studies and what they need to do to catch up.
The district will continue to provide curbside meals for students