HOUSTON – July 1, 2020 – Spring ISD is offering parents two back-to-school options for their students this August – full-time online instruction or a hybrid model that offers a combination of both in-person and distance learning.
The district presented its plan Tuesday at a special meeting of the Board of Trustees, which heard a detailed review of each of the options developed during weeks of planning and incorporating the results of recent parent and staff surveys.
“Our goal is to be as prepared as possible to respond to the changing public health conditions that may impact our community,” said Spring ISD Chief of Communications and Innovation Tiffany Dunne-Oldfield. “We believe these two options will allow us to prioritize the safety of our students and staff while ensuring a quality education in a COVID-19 environment.”
The hybrid option reflects that commitment to safety, with administrators calling it the Safety-First Hybrid Model. Under that choice, all students will learn from home on Wednesdays so that schools can be deep cleaned. But depending on public health conditions, students in grades 3 through 12 will attend school in-person up to four days a week if there is minimal spread of COVID-19 in the community. If there is widespread transmission of the virus in the community, the district will move to an alternating schedule of only two days of in-person instruction each week, with the other days dedicated to at-home learning. Should the spread be severe and schools need to close, most students will learn remotely until it is safe to return to campus.
For students in Pre-K–2nd grades, the Safety-First Hybrid Model will mean four days of in-person instruction with enhanced social distancing measures in place that will minimize the opportunities for students to mix outside of their class group. In addition, campuses will enhance school sanitation and hygiene efforts through a variety of strategies, including face coverings in common areas, plexiglass shields as appropriate, frequent hand washing and reduced class sizes.
Spring High School Principal Diaka Melendez, who helped lead the planning group that focused on school schedules and class configurations, said there was strong consensus that the district’s youngest students need as much in-person instruction as possible.
“When you think about phonics or reading or just those developmental skills that are so necessary to your education later on, Pre-K through 2 students would be the group that we would try to bring on campus Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday,” Melendez said.
The other option for parents in the 2020-21 school year is online instruction, which the district will continue calling Empowered Learning At-Home. But unlike during the extended closure when students worked on Project-Based Learning plans, families that opt for Empowered Learning At-Home will take part in standards-based learning with educators teaching specific content.
“Our courses, our scope and sequence will be standards-based instruction, and it will include an aligned assessment,” said Melissa Warford, McNabb Elementary principal. “We really want to emphasize to our parents, to our community members, and to our teachers that what we provide students in Schoology will mirror the same high-caliber, high-quality instruction that they would receive when they are inside the classroom.”
To help guide the district’s decision-making, administrators unveiled an Operational Decision Meter to clearly outline how the district will determine when in-person days can be expanded or when campuses may need to move to more virtual/remote learning to protect the health of students and staff due to localized outbreaks.
That color-coded meter aligns with public health conditions, with red being the most severe spread of COVID-19 and green representing minimal spread.
By the middle of July, families will be sent an email or text asking them to indicate their preference for either the Safety-First Hybrid option or Empowered Learning At-Home. Based on early parent survey results, some 41 percent of parents indicated they would feel “somewhat comfortable” or “very comfortable” sending their students to school in the fall provided the district takes strong steps to prioritize health and safety, such as reducing the number of students in classrooms and mandating that masks be worn in enclosed spaces and common areas where adequate social distancing is not possible.
“We saw a strong consensus in the survey results around strategies like masks, social distancing measures and regular deep cleaning of our facilities,” Dunne-Oldfield said. “When we explained some of the steps the district is considering, the percentage of families feeling comfortable with a return to school increased.”
The parent survey will remain open until July 6 so there’s still an opportunity for Spring ISD families to weigh in.
Dunne-Oldfield acknowledged that many families and staff are likely to have questions about the district’s 2020-21 plans, and she assured the trustees that more details are coming. Later this week, the district will launch a website at www.springisd.org/reopen with frequently asked questions and other information that will help parents as they evaluate their options for next year.
In addition, Spring ISD Superintendent Dr. Rodney E. Watson announced that the district would be hosting a virtual town hall on July 13 to help address questions.
Dunne-Oldfield said more details on how to participate will be shared with families soon, including a session in Spanish.
“The goal is to ask parents their preference by the middle of July so they have time to think about what option is best for them and so that we have time to plan and staff based on those preferences,” she said.
She said families who opt for the Safety-First Hybrid model will always have the option to move into remote instruction through Empowered Learning At-Home. Families who choose the online option will also be able to change their preference and come back to an in-person setting at the end of each grading period.
“With so much uncertainty, we want our families to have as much flexibility as possible during this unprecedented time,” she said.