• November 27, 2020

COVID concerns hang over Thanksgiving break - Odessa American: ECISD

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COVID concerns hang over Thanksgiving break

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Posted: Thursday, November 19, 2020 12:23 pm

While Ector County Independent School District educators and students are looking forward to a week off for Thanksgiving, Superintendent Scott Muri is worried about that second week of December when everyone has returned from the holiday week because of the gestation period of COVID-19.

“My hope is that all members of our community whether we are ECISD staff members, students or not, it is critically important that all members of our community just be really wise and follow the safety procedures that our community has put in place — mask wearing, social distancing and keeping hands clean,” Muri said in a media call Wednesday.

“If we simply do those three things as an entire community, then none of us will have cause for concern but certainly right now concerns are elevated because of what we are seeing in our community. If we don't do a good job over the holiday break, then certainly we will be impacted in a pretty negative way because of COVID-19,” Muri said.

He added that because of increasing cases in the community, the district has revisited its protocols and they are set to take effect Nov. 30.

“We’ll be announcing those at the end of this week, but we'll look forward to continuing to improving the processes and systems that we are using to keep all of our students safe and all of our staff members safe,” Muri said.

If there was one, Muri said he would fully support a mask mandate.

“Our own data indicate that masks have almost eliminated the spread of COVID-19. Our administrators and teachers wear masks and face shields,” Muri said.

Students in fourth through 12th grade are required to wear masks.

He said there are disciplinary measures in place for people that don’t comply, but by and large, he said he has been impressed that students are following the protocols.

“But I think more importantly our kids want to make sure that those around them and their teachers remain safe, so I really applaud them. But yes, if there is a situation in which we have a student or a staff member for that matter that is not following our safety protocols that we have responses to that in place,” Muri said.

On a COVID connected matter, Muri said as a system ECISD doesn’t think it’s wise to administer the STAAR, or State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, test this year. He said results from the test should not be used to make decisions regarding promotion or tension of students, grading or sanctioning schools, or even rewards because the validity of the data wouldn’t be reliable.

“… But the data will be interesting for teachers to see it. It will be interesting for parents to see, because we can use that data element to combine with other data that we're collecting on our students throughout the year. So I support our students taking the STAAR, but beyond that I adamantly oppose any use of that STAAR assessment to make decisions about students, to make decisions about schools, to make decisions about districts. Again, validity and reliability is just not going to be present this year,” Muri said.

State legislators, including Rep. Brooks Landgraf, R-Odessa, have called for the cancellation of STAAR this year.

Muri said it is a state and federal government decision.

“In order for the State of Texas to eliminate that assessment for accountability purposes, they must seek permission from the federal government. Right now the deadline for applying for that decision is the end of December, so it’s critical that TEA, the Texas Education Agency, as well as our own legislators and governor weigh in on this situation because we have to inform the federal government of our desire to have the accountability portion of that waived this year and then present a plan for that process. I encourage our commissioner and our governor to pursue that avenue on behalf of every single child in ECISD, as well as the 5.4 million children across the state of Texas.

“Right now, the ball is in our court as a state to ask permission of the federal government for that opportunity,” Muri said.

STAAR administration starts at the end of April and continues throughout May, he said.

He said local legislators can listen to the needs of school districts and make sure state leaders hear districts’ desires and act on that. Muri added that there is great representation in West Texas that really listens to the needs of school districts and ECISD has already communicated its desires to those lawmakers.

Landgraf said he has some confidence that the STAAR will be cancelled because it has been before.

“… What I and so many of my colleagues are asking is for this school year to be treated the same way the last school year was, specifically the spring semester when waivers were obtained from the U.S. Department of Education, to not require the standardized testing administration in the spring really because the same COVID-19 related issues persist,” Landgraf said in a phone interview Wednesday. “We’re just asking for the same treatment when it comes to the STAAR exam.”

Landgraf said there is support from across the state for this and many legislators have signed letters to Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath backing cancellation of the exam.

“… I would hope the waivers would be in place before the end of this calendar year,” Landgraf said.

The legislature doesn’t meet until Jan. 12.

If STAAR were administered but the results just used for data, Landgraf would be fine with that.

“Data is fine,” he said. “I don’t think that data should be weaponized in the middle of a pandemic like this.”

On an unrelated item, Muri said an internet connectivity survey was sent to all ECISD families Nov. 18. The district wants to know the level of connectivity in families’ homes as it tries to provide broadband for every family in the community.

“…We conducted a survey in the spring and we have all those data, but we know because of COVID-19 and the fact that many of our parents are working from home, as well as students, we know that some of you may have made some decisions as it relates to the level and type of internet connectivity in your home and we need that information so we as a school district can make really smart choices on behalf of your children,” Muri said.

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