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Elgin ISD plans for virtual, in-person learning

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Last week, Elgin ISD released an update about its current plans for returning to school in August.

A letter to parents from Superintendent Jodi Duron, dated June 29, laid out where the school district stands at that time, although the letter said there are a number of challenges that the district is working on but are waiting on the direction and guidance of the Texas Education Agency (TEA). According to the letter, TEA was supposed to give school districts this guidance the previous week but has postponed the release of this information, partially due to the recent surge of COVID-19 cases in Texas.

The letter notes that details are subject to change based on more guidance from local, state and federal authorities.

Elgin ISD plans to offer two options for families of students. Students can choose to attend school in-person on campus full time, with heightened hygiene and disinfection protocols, and be required to wear face coverings such as a mask or a shield. Or, students can choose full-time remote virtual learning, with laptops or tablets provided by the school district and mobile internet hotspots for families that need them.

Although Elgin ISD has investigated a third option to combine in-person and virtual learning, this arrangement would not be logistically feasible or financially possible for Elgin ISD based on current TEA guidance, the letter said.

“Thus, we have determined that providing two choices so that families can make the best personal decision is our best option at this time,” the letter says. “Importantly, regardless of the option chosen, TEA has established increased grading and attendance requirements to ensure students are fully engaged with the learning.”

During their most recent meeting on June 15, the school board voted to purchase iPads, Chromebooks and mobile internet hotspots in order to ensure that every student in the district could have access to the virtual option. Pre-kindergarten through second-grade students will receive iPads, while students in third grade or higher will receive Chromebooks. The school district will also work with families on training to use the devices within the coming weeks, according to the letter.

“While having the devices and access to internet is a step in the right direction, we also recognize the need to provide families with training and support to assist their children with virtual learning,” the letter says.

At this time, Elgin ISD is planning on following its approved instructional calendar with a start date of August 17, although there may be a need for a delayed start date due to the recent surge of COVID-19 cases.

“While we cannot predict what is ahead, what we do know is that we need the help, support and cooperation of our staff and community to make this transition back to school as seamless as possible,” the letter says. “And while no single action or set of actions will completely eliminate the risk of COVID-19 transmission, by supporting and implementing these coordinated efforts, we can greatly reduce that risk.”

When school begins again, the schools will put in place a number of recommended safety protocols to mitigate the spread of the virus, the letter says. This includes more frequent cleaning and disinfecting, training students and staff on health and hygiene practices, and requiring face masks and shields, especially when social distancing is not possible. Elgin ISD will provide each student and staff member with a mask or a shield; at this time, pre-kindergarten through second-grade students will wear face shields, while students in third grade and up will wear face masks.

Currently, a re-entry task force is working out the logistics of these health and safety protocols.

Duron will host the next virtual superintendent’s chat on Monday, July 13 at 6 p.m. via Zoom; in the letter, she said she hopes more information from TEA will be available to guide the school district’s decisions.

“In the meantime, I remain grateful to be part of a community that stands together in times of uncertainty and that remains united in our efforts to support our children,” Duron’s letter concludes.