Preparing with PPE: Protective equipment from TEA lands in Brownsville

Inventory clerk Norma Chavez and warehouse clerk Felix Calderon check that a shipment of thermometers matches the amount listed Tuesday as a shipment of PPE from the Texas Education Agency is unloaded at the BISD warehouse on Morrison Road.(Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

The Brownsville Independent School District took delivery Tuesday on two truckloads of Personal Protective Equipment from the Texas Education Agency as the district prepares for the day students are able to return to physical classrooms.

In all, the shipment totaled 43 pallets of PPE including disposable and reusable masks, gloves, contact-free thermometers and more than 4,000 gallons of hand sanitizer. District officials said the shipment adds to PPE that BISD was already stockpiling.

“Even though we’re starting the year 100% online, we’re thankful TEA has given us these additional supplies so we’ll have plenty of PPE in our inventory when the day comes that students can return to actual classrooms,” Superintendent Rene Gutierrez said. “We’ve already invested lots of money in PPE.”

For now, the PPE is being stockpiled at the district warehouse on Morrison Road for distribution to BISD’s 54 campuses as need arises.

With the start of school on Aug. 25, BISD is preparing for the new school year on several fronts, Nereida Cantu, the deputy superintendent for Business and Operations, said.

“Every department is working on an action plan, from Curriculum and Instruction to special education and dyslexia it’s all hands on deck,” she said.

The district also is working to make sure every child has an internet connection. For students in areas that lack broadband internet access, the district is surveying its supply of internet hotspots, with TEA supplying additional hotspots where students can connect.

School buses are being equipped with internet hotspots and will be parked in the highest-need areas for students to connect, Cantu said. Each school is designating an information technology contact person to assist with connectivity and other distance learning issues.

The district has already distributed millions of dollars worth of Chromebook laptop computers, but large chunks of the city lack basic internet connectivity.

BISD is part of a consortium with the city, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Texas Southmost College and others to improve the city’s broadband internet infrastructure.

According to an analysis of U.S. Census data by Business Insider, Brownsville is ranked second in the nation in its lack of broadband access, with an estimated 44 percent of households without a broadband internet subscription and more than 17 percent of households without a computer.

Philip Cowen, who leads the technology committee of the BISD Board of Trustees, has said the district has a pair of gigabyte-per-second trunk lines that can be harnessed to broadcast wi-fi services in parts of town that lack high-speed internet, among them the old town site, parts of Southmost and areas of West Brownsville around Pace Early College High School. The city has rights of way via the Public Utilities Board.

The PPE shippment received Tuesday morning included 392,312 disposable masks, 186,341 reusable masks, 186,341 pairs of gloves, 322 contact-free thermometers and 4,036 gallons of hand sanitizer. TEA is distributing some 50 million masks to school districts across Texas, along with 10 million pairs of gloves and 50,000 gallons of hand sanitizer. The distribution is in collaboration with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s strike force to get the economy restarted and the Texas Department of Emergency Management.