Starting the Monday after Thanksgiving, all Brownsville Independent School District campuses will be open for in-person learning to any student whose family requests that option.
The long-delayed reopening represents the goal BISD has been working toward ever since the coronavirus pandemic arrived over spring break last year, forcing the district to shutter campuses and move exclusively to distance learning. Many hoped the lockdown would be over as soon as school let out for the summer.
Instead, summer school went online, fall classes started via distance learning, and the Texas Education Agency granted BISD a series of three four-week waivers to continue online learning without in-person classes. The final waiver expires Nov. 20, the last day before Thanksgiving break.
In the mean time, BISD has opened its campuses to students who lack an electronic device or internet connectivity, allowing them to come on campus for the WiFi or to access a device. A smattering of students has been studying that way since Sept. 23, when BISD started opening the campuses gradually. The process comes full-circle on Nov. 30.
All teachers and support staff are being asked to report to campuses today to give them a week to get ready to welcome students once again, albeit under different conditions than when they left last spring.
At Pace Early College High School, Principal Joel M. Wood is looking forward to the change. Pace, like other campuses, has had a few teachers teaching from their classrooms and has gotten its allotment of Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE, to make the transition as safe as possible. Pace has three temperature-checking kiosks in addition to hand-held thermometers, plenty of hand sanitizer, lots and lots of masks and enough sanitation supplies to sanitize classrooms and common areas often enough to keep COVID-19 at bay, Wood said.
Pace and other schools are conducting surveys on their websites to determine how many students will actually be coming in. Pace has an enrollment of 2,063, but only half would be coming in at one time thanks to hybrid scheduling. The floors have been marked with directional arrows, and other signage will help enforce social distancing. “It’s all about safety,” Wood said, adding that survey numbers will tell how many lunch trays will have to be prepared and how many bus riders the transportation department needs to plan for, among other logistical considerations.
“I’m looking forward to seeing their bright, shiny faces, even though you can’t with the masks,” he said. “It will be nice to see kids in the building again.” Wood is in his first year as Pace principal after coming over from Vela Middle School.
Across the district, “we feel like we’ve been preparing for this day since last spring,” Superintendent Rene Gutierrez said.
“We’ve been buying learning devices, PPE, putting up Plexiglas shields, signs and stockpiling sanitation supplies,” Gutierrez said. “We opted in for the rapid COVID-19 tests that give results in 15 minutes, so we’re coming to the point of us opening up.”
Gutierrez added that TEA is providing BISD with plenty of PPE and that the BISD Board of Trustees is providing the resources the district needs to meet the pandemic, the latest one being the rapid tests. Rapid testing has started at the BISD Wellness Gymnasium, 708 Palm Boulevard. TEA is providing BISD with a monthly allotment of 16,000 rapid tests, which can be replenished free of charge if the need arises.