Los Fresnos proposes delayed school start

The Los Fresnos Consolidated Independent School District has announced plans to delay the start of school until early September under a revised 2020-2021 academic calendar proposed for adoption by the board of trustees at its July 13 meeting.

If approved, the calendar calls for students to return to class on Sept. 8. The last class day would be June 17. Teachers would return on Aug. 31 and complete the year on June 18.

“ We are working diligently to adjust and prepare for a safe return of our students and teachers this fall. We are making data driven decisions because we want to start safe and finish strong,” Superintendent Gonzalo Salazar stated in a news release.

The proposed delayed start date is in response to the recent rise in the number of positive cases of COVID-19 in the Cameron County area. A delayed start to the school year will allow time for the measures recently implemented by state and county officials to flatten the curve. “We have listened to the feedback from parents, students, teachers and community members in coming to this recommendation,” Salazar said.

The district is considering various instructional models and is in developing the corresponding framework for each. The various plans are designed around Los Fresnos CISD’s mission of delivering a quality educational experience while observing social distancing and following recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for minimizing risk.

LFCISD has been meeting with advisory groups to collect feedback and suggestions for refining its plans. During a board workshop June 22, administration presented trustees with information on work done so far. Here are highlights of the two of the possible scenarios the district has developed:

Option One:

>> Pre-kindergarten through second-grade students, and special education students will attend class daily. Class sizes will be limited to comply with CDC and Texas Education Agency recommendations of maintaining six feet distance from others.

>> Third through 12th-grade students will attend class in person on alternating days. Students will be assigned to a “Maroon” or “Gold” schedule. Students will attend in person two days per week one week and three days per week on the following week. On non-campus days, students will be expected to participate remotely through Google Classroom. “Maroon” and “Gold” days will be assigned by address, keeping all students in a household on the same schedule.

Option Two:

>> Pre-k through 12th grade students selecting Option Two will complete all learning from home through Google Classroom. Students will have access to all instructional materials that would be available, including, but not limited to, teacher led direct instruction, instructional videos, assignments and digital resources.

Special Education services (occupational and physical therapy, speech, etc.) will continue regardless of the option selected by parents.

“ Although the fall semester will look significantly different, what will not change is our firm commitment to provide a quality educational experience that results in the development of socially responsible lifelong learners — we know we must do so in a safe learning environment,” Salazar added.

The district plans to present further details in the coming weeks giving families enough information to make an informed decision for students by early August. As TEA provides more information, the district will refine its plans and provide parents with further details for the start of the 2020-21 school year.

At the workshop, Salazar characterized the plans as having many moving parts, including not just class size, but the number of students per school bus and practicing social distancing in the cafeteria.

“ If we follow TEA guidelines for summer school, then for a school district that operates well over 100 school buses over 450 square miles, it becomes a bit of a challenge,” he said. By dividing each attendance zone in half, each bus could carry 28 students instead of the usual 64, Salazar said.

“ We admit this is not a perfect plan and we know there will be things we haven’t thought of,” he added, saying that’s why the district sought feedback from parents.

Jennifer Stumbaugh, director of professional learning, presented results of surveys done through the district’s website. The three most common concerns expressed by parents were cleaning and disinfection efforts, health and wellness checks of students, and what happens if someone tests positive for COVID-19.

In a parental survey that received 4,000 responses in 48 hours “it immediately became evident that the responders had more than one student in our school district, so we’re confident that more than 50% of our students are represented in the data,” she said.

The survey showed that 28.6 percent of parents would send their children back to school, 26.8% lacked confidence to do so, and 44.7% said they did not have enough information.

Parents also were asked to check boxes next to statements that applied to them. The most-popular boxes were that their students struggled with online learning, but that they were confident the district could help them catch up, and that online learning went well, Stumbaugh said.

The survey also found that 62.8% of students had a laptop for online learning, 16.9% had an iPad and 20.4% lacked a device. Los Fresnos suffers from a digital divide because parts of the district are rural and lack adequate internet service.

Salazar said many survey respondents submitted questions regarding the upcoming school year, and that they would be answered via email.