HISD Studies Ways to Rebound From the COVID-19 Disruption

Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan discusses catching up plans.
Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan discusses catching up plans. Screenshot/ HISD TV
In a speech that was in turn optimistic and sobering, Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan Friday cautioned that for Houston ISD students whose studies and lives have been disrupted by COVID-19:  "It could take us several years to rebound. It could take us three to five years."

At a press conference outside the Hattie Mae White administration building, Lathan said the district has been able to reach "95 percent of our 206,000 students that were enrolled as of April 4, 2020" during the stay-at-home and school-closure weeks.

Which means, running the numbers, 10,300 students are unaccounted for and apparently lost their connection to school entirely.  Lathan said they are still working to try to reach those remaining students via phone, texts or home visits with social distancing.

She also addressed the technological divide, noting that 35 percent of the homes with students in the district do not have internet access. "To close the divide," she said, "we issued internet hot spots and devices like laptops and chrome books to our students."

She said the district is prepared to continue its HISD At Home classes online approach if needed, depending on what develops with the coronavirus spread. Parents and students with questions can call the hotline number at 713-556-4636 and calls will be answered in English. Spanish. Vietnamese and Arabic.

Virtual Summer school will begin June 8 and end July 2 .  She urged other students to take summer enrichment courses online as well.

Various scenarios for the 2020-21 school year are being discussed with anything from all virtual to on-campus attendance on certain days. At issue is not only social distancing on campus but also on the buses used to transport students, Lathan said. She discussed the possibility of HISD moving to a year-round school calendar as brought up by trustee Anne Sung at the school board's Thursday night meeting, an approach that has been mentioned by TEA Commissioner Mike Morath.

If the district doesn't go to a year round calendar next fall, there may be boot camp sessions for students the district considers most at risk academically, she said. Other options include extending the school day by 30 minutes throughout the 2020-21 term, Lathan said.

The interim superintendent said her administration hopes to have the school year calendar sorted out within the next month. She also discussed the decision at Thursday night's board meeting when trustees in a 7-2 vote  approved beginning the process to have the state declare HISD a District of Innovation which would enable it to open school in the fall earlier than the fourth Monday in August.

However, this would not take place until the 2021-22 school year and would be after the district gathers public input and forms a planning committee.

Lathan presented her proposal to the board during the virtual meeting. Because of difficulties in filling certain job openings, Lathan also wants the ability to hire non-certified teachers for Career and Technical Education classes. These would be industry professionals. Trustees Elizabeth Santos and Anne Sung voted against the proposal. Santos said teachers regarded the resolution as "a slap in the face" in calling for non-certified teachers to join their ranks.

Sung wanted to postpone the vote until June and have Lathan present the board with what would be the options of having a year round school calendar.  Santos, who said she was in a pilot program for year round schooling in 1987-88 in HISD, said it might well help the most vulnerable student populations in HISD by moving to that kind of system.

The district also hopes to get the 90 percent attendance rule changed, asking for flexibility in requiring students to be physically present to get credit for a class. 

Board members approved a $4,000-a-year, four-year plan to sanitize laptops used by students and employees before those laptops are re-assigned to others. 
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