By Gail M. Williams
Muleshoe Journal Correspondent
At its regular board meeting on Monday, July 13, MISD Board of Trustees and administrators determined that the new normal for schools would look much like the old normal.
Superintendent Dr. R.L. Richards said the school is not planning to use TEA guidelines, but to start back to school on Thursday, Aug. 12, just as it ended in March.
“We will do asynchronous learning remotely. Parents and students will have a choice of that later in July,” Richards said.
According to the Texas Education Agency website, Remote Asynchronous Instruction is “instruction that does not require having the instructor and student engaged at the same time. In this method, students learn from instruction that is not necessarily being delivered in-person or in real time.”
Richards points out that kindergarten through 2nd Grade will not and are not allowed to have totally online synchronous learning, but asynchronous learning is an option.
According to an email from Richards, the new school calendar with the early start date provides extra student minutes. Teachers’ contract days will remain the same. On Friday, Aug. 14, MISD will have a CSP Day to plan for on campus instruction and the asynchronous instruction.
“This earlier start date will provide MISD flexibility in our calendar this year,” Richards said. “MISD will also be sticking to our motto, ‘Keep students safe, Keep staff safe, and have a normal school year.’”
Most of our routines for 2020-21 School Year will remain exactly the same as the 2019-2020 School Year. This will be an asset to our students, our staff, and our community.”
Temperature checks may be performed on students for the first couple of weeks.
“After that, we’ll re-evaluate that and see whether it’s helping or not helping,” Richards said. “Teachers will self-check.”
Recently released TEA guidelines said, “school systems must post for parents and the general public, one week prior to the start of on campus activities and instruction, a summary of the plan they will follow to mitigate COVID-19 spread in their schools based on the requirements and recommendations outlined.”
“We will send out surveys, but we already have our plan — to go back to normal,” Richards said.
“We will still be taking some input from the different community groups, but that will have to fall within our regular routine. To mitigate for COVID-19, we’re going to stick with our regular routines.”
A recent MISD survey indicated that about 72 percent of parents were confident for their child returning to school; 14 percent very uncomfortable and 12 percent were a little uncomfortable.
According to a TEA press release, “If the number of active COVID-19 cases remains under 20, the county will be exempt from wearing masks.”
As of July 13, the number of active cases in Bailey County stood at 12, according to a Emergency Management Committee Facebook post.
“No masks are required,” Richards said.
In the event that the number of active cases goes up to 20, Richards said, “According to the Governor’s Executive Order and the guidance from Mayor (Cliff) Black and Judge (Sherri) Harrison, Muleshoe ISD, we will follow the protocols.”
One thing that will change at the school is the emphasis on sanitization.
“We’ve got sanitizers by every classroom, and students will wash hands more often than usual,” Richards said.
Like other school districts in Texas and across the nation, MISD gained a crash course in remote teaching and learning during the lockdown that began last spring.
“Closing school last March was a whirlwind,” Richards said. “ Our teachers were the most responsive teachers in the state, beginning online and packet learning within just a couple of days of being notified about school closing, so kudos to the MISD staff.
“However, we also learned that the rapid closing caused us to call the process ‘crisis learning.’ Many of our teachers were very good with technology, and it went smoothly. This summer most of our staff trained on Google Classroom with the help of Victoria Bomer and Baylee Black. We are much more prepared than we were last spring. We learned a great deal last spring about how to teach students and work with parents on student learning.”
The TEA press release said, “All parents will have the option to choose remote learning for their children, initially, or at any point as the year progresses. Parents who choose remote instruction for their students may be asked to commit to remote instruction for a full grading period (e.g. 6 or 9 weeks), but will not have to make that commitment more than two weeks in advance, so they can make a decision based on the latest public health information.”
“There is a great deal of flexibility in the new Texas guidance from TEA,” Richards said. “How teachers prepare for students will be determined in the next few weeks. This is a huge challenge for students, teachers and parents.
“TEA also allows students to switch back and forth at the end of the grading period; making the flexibility required for classroom teachers even greater.”
The press release refers to “statewide efforts to help bridge the digital divide for students at home, along with other ongoing support.”
“Many of our students do not have Wi-Fi capability. And there are even spots in our county with no cell service available,” Richards said. “So, we do need to improve the connectivity if possible.”
Governor Greg Abbott, the Texas Education Agency (TEA), and Dallas Independent School District (DISD) recently launched Operation Connectivity, a statewide initiative to deliver internet connectivity and device solutions for school districts, families, and students in Texas.
“Five Area was a huge help with internet service; however many students still did not have access,” Richards said. “All students in grades 4-12 have Chromebooks for their schoolwork. We are ordering more equipment now to help us be prepared for the future of online learning. The school will have remote instruction available. Each campus has its own methods of ensuring remote learning is occurring.
“So there will be blended models of instruction, but the teachers of Muleshoe ISD will have the equipment and support to provide the best learning experience possible for our students.”
In response to the press release mention of “free online, TEKS-aligned learning tools,” Richards said, “Online learning tools are available, but very few are totally free. Of course, students can be directed to videos and demonstrations as part of the learning experience, but developing some of the skills required to be effective in life and future academic assessments does not all happen without the interaction and guidance of a teacher.
“TEA is promising some videos and ZOOM training for our staff, and several principals have already indicated they will attend the trainings. We will have Muleshoe ISD trainings, and we hope the ESC will also provide the trainings.”
Richards says people occasionally tell him they wouldn’t want to be a superintendent at this time.
“I don’t see it that way,” he said. “I see it as a great challenge — no one has ever been through this before. I’ve been a school superintendent for 32 years, and I’m excited about it.”