HCISD revises academic calendar, creates Virtual Academy for new school year

Harlingen CISD has released the 2020-2021 academic calendar. Adjustments to the calendar have been made according to the public health order issued by the county. (Maricela Rodriguez/Valley Morning Star)

HARLINGEN — The school year in Harlingen is starting more than a month later than originally planned.

The Harlingen school district on Monday released an updated calendar for the 2021 school year. The new calendar changes the first day of school from Aug. 10 to Sept. 8.

The change comes after Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr. and Cameron County Health Director James Castillo ordered the postponement of face to face learning until September. This after coronavirus cases exploded across the county. Hospitals are pushed to capacity and the death toll is climbing by the day.

Harlingen teachers and employees earlier this month held a rally at the HCISD Administration Building demanding that all classes be held online. They vehemently protested the mandate that they must return to classes in spite of the danger to themselves and their families.

The district’s initial response was to simply postpone face to face instruction classes until Sept. 8 but begin online classes on Aug. 10 as scheduled. However, this presented serious difficulties which required a whole new calendar, said Shane Strubhart, spokesperson for the district.

Specifically, all students don’t yet have complete access to online instruction.

“There are some equity gaps that currently exist with our students, meaning that many of our students would be left behind if we rush to 100 percent remote learning,” Strubhart said.

The district began addressing this problem when students first began sheltering-in-place in the spring. Educators ordered more technology to close that equity gap for students and their families.

“This will allow us to educate both our parents and our teachers in remote learning and allow us to get more technology in to fill the gap that exists,” he said. “This will be very different from what took place in the spring.”

Strubhart explained the district has created the HCISD Virtual Academy with three portals: one for parents, another for students and a third for teachers.

“That’s how we’re going to ensure that there is quality instruction delivered to every student, but it will all be through remote learning,” Strubhart said.

Harlingen students had varied opinions on the decision to delay school until September.

“I don’t think it should be pushed back because we actually need to work on our education,” said Maggie Aguinaga, 14, a freshman at Early College High School.

Maggie, an accomplished student with an overall A average, conceded that she doesn’t do as well in virtual learning as she does in person.

“We should have more time to study and I haven’t been studying,” she said. “I want to go some days in person in case I need some help but I want to go online too.”

Others felt the new calendar is a good idea.

“Honestly in my opinion I think it’s better because what if one of the students at school has corona?” said Laura Garcia, 15, a sophomore at Harlingen School of Health Professions.

Laura felt this situation would put undue stress on classroom learning.

“For me I feel like it would be too much pressure on one child,” she said.

Jose Mendoza is ready to get back to a regular in-person classroom, the sooner the better.

“I feel like we should go to school and get an education and try to make what’s going on better,” he said.

Does he feel it’s safe?

“No, but we can try and keep everyone distant,” he said.

Parents expressed support for the school district’s efforts to keep students and teachers safe.

“We are public servants. No one knows that better than our HCISD leaders and school board members,” said Monica Blount, a parent who is also a school nurse for the district.

“I have nothing but the utmost respect for our administration!” she said. “They have been faced with a very difficult decision, and I trust they have made the best one for the safety of our children and entire HCISD family.”

twhitehead@valleystar.com