BISD in-person start date extended; Full on-campus instruction begins Nov. 30

Samule Perez repacks each laptop sent over from the BISD warehouse Thursday at Hanna Early College High School. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

The Texas Education Agency has granted a second four-week waiver extending the start date for face-to-face instruction for all BISD students to Nov. 30, the day after the Thanksgiving break.

The waiver clears the way for the Brownsville Independent School District to deliver the vast majority of instruction through distance learning through the start of the Thanksgiving holiday on Nov. 20. Parents have the option to request distance learning through the end of the 2020-2021 academic year, and teachers with students at home have the option of whether or not to bring their children to school, Superintendent Rene Gutierrez said.

TEA approved the second four-week waiver contingent on BISD opening campuses for face-to-face instruction to students without adequate internet or devices. The soft, or phased-in, reopening for such students began Sept. 23, with all students whose parents requested in-person classes back on campus as of Tuesday. Currently, less than 100 BISD students whose parents are teachers are attending in-person classes, Gutierrez said.

The BISD Board of Trustees approved the extension on a 7-0 vote at its Oct. 6 meeting. As of Oct. 1, the date the request was submitted, 602 students were attending classes on campus and 527 did not have access to the internet or a device out of a student population of more than 40,000, according to the waiver application.

Gutierrez said TEA wants BISD to gradually increase the number of students receiving on-campus instruction. Responding to a question from Trustee Philip Cowen, Anysia R. Trevino, deputy superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, said neither TEA nor Gov. Greg Abbott’s office have made any offer to continue the second waiver through the end of the first semester, which falls on Dec. 18.

“I think the ones that are coming in are the ones that really need it, the ones that are having problems with internet devices and hotspots,” Gutierrez said. As of the meeting 544 students were coming to classes on campus, Trevino said.

The application cites several grim statistics as justification for the waiver:

>> Brownsville and the Rio Grande Valley continue to be a hotspot for COVID-19. As of Sept. 30, Cameron County’s hospitalization rate for COVID-19 was 15.12%.

>> Since March, BISD has had 179 employees test positive for COVID-19 and 11 of them have died.

>> Since March, BISD has had to close 16 campuses and four departments at one time or another due to COVID-19 infections.

glong@brownsvilleherald.com