• September 17, 2020

Phased-in opening to take a little longer - Odessa American: ECISD

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Phased-in opening to take a little longer

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Posted: Thursday, August 6, 2020 5:26 pm

Ector County ISD is starting school Wednesday, but the first phase of the restart will be longer than originally planned due to the prevalence of COVID-19 cases in the community.

“Right now as we shared really throughout the summer, the start of school is completely dependent upon the medical situation, really the health and wellness of our community,” Superintendent Scott Muri said in a media call Wednesday. “Three data points caused us some concern and therefore we’ve had to extend the phase-in period.”

Muri said the positivity rate for Ector County currently stands at 19.6 percent. The positivity rate is the percentage of people who test positive for COVID-19 out of all tests conducted, the Johns Hopkins University website stated.

“The second piece that we are looking at is the hospitalization rate, so the number of individuals that are currently in the hospital right now. That rate has been declining, so that’s good news for our community. The rate of people being admitted to the hospital is on the decline,” he said.

“The third thing is the number of people in our community testing positive. That data is on the decline, but none of those data points are where we need them to be as a community … Because of that, we’ve had to extend the amount of time that we’re going to phase in,” Muri said.

The way the community can control these factors, he said, is by ensuring that everyone practices social distancing, washes their hands clean and wears a mask whenever they leave their house.

“If we as a community do those things, those numbers will significantly decline, so we are extending our Phase 1 period,” Muri said.

The first day of school is still Wednesday, but most students will start in a virtual environment. Those who attend school will have to undergo screening before coming into the building.

“... Those students starting face-to-face with us on Aug. 12 are the students in ECISD that do not have internet access in their homes, so if you’re a family and you do not have internet access you’ll be allowed to come to school on Aug. 12,” Muri said.

“The second group of kids is special education students … and special ed parents need to work with your special education teachers to make this determination (of) if that is indeed the best choice for your child,” he added. “We’re going to welcome our 3 year olds. Our two pre-k centers both serve 3 year olds and we will welcome those kids back on Aug. 12. Then finally, the children of ECISD employees. We’re bringing those children back, pre-k through eight, so our staffers can support and educate the children of our community.”

Phase II will start Aug. 26, two weeks after the start of school Aug. 12.

“I will also say that that start date is pending the health and wellness of our community, so next week we’ll be two weeks away from this Aug. 26 date and we will once again monitor the health and wellness of our community. If we see that those numbers are in good shape and are trending in the right direction, then we will hopefully be able to bring our Phase 2 students back on the 26th. But if next Wednesday our numbers do not look healthy as a community, then we may need to extend that two-week phase into potentially three weeks, or more even more …,” Muri said.

Phase 3 is scheduled to start Sept. 1 and Phase 4 on Sept. 8. Muri stressed that this is all contingent upon community health conditions.

On the subject of registration, Muri said it is important that parents complete the process for each child in their home.

“It is critically important as we plan for the education of your children on Aug. 12 …,” Muri said.

For families who need computers for their students, for example, Muri said they must be registered. This can be accomplished by visiting the ECISD website. If families don’t have internet access, they can visit their local school.

“All of our schools have computers available. You can do that electronically at any one of our schools, or in that face-to-face environment, but again, that needs to be done as soon as you possibly can so that we can make arrangements to receive the 34,000 kids that we expect to serve starting on Wednesday, Aug. 12,” Muri said.

Muri noted that the remote learning experience will be different in the fall compared to last spring because there will be teachers assigned to virtual learning at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

There will be synchronous and asynchronous learning. For synchronous learning, the teacher will be live with the students.

“Some portion of the students’ day will be live with the teacher through a technology device, such as a laptop or an iPad, or in some cases through the telephone …,” Muri said.

Asynchronous learning will not be live with a teacher, but students will be completing assignments, working on a project or collaborating with some of their peers on the phone, Muri said.

“Many of our teachers will also be recording those synchronous lessons, if for some reason a student is not able to be present during that live experience. They may be able to watch that video later on in the evening. It’s not live, but it’s a recording of that experience from earlier in the day. We would consider that asynchronous learning, but both of those are options for our kids,” he added. “What is important is that every child engage with their teacher every single day, whether you’re face to face in the classroom or you’re in the virtual environment at home. Our teachers will provide engaging lessons and experiences for our kids every single day in both the synchronous manner and asynchronous manner.”

Muri said the written communication issued by ECISD has been in English and Spanish.

“We also provide support to any of our Spanish speaking grandparents that wish to contact a teacher. If the teacher is unable to speak the Spanish language, then we have other individuals either on campus or available at the central office that can help translate that conversation between the teacher and the grandparent,” he added.

For students who are English learners, there are English learner teachers assigned to them to provide instruction. “That is both in English and Spanish and they also communicate with our families, so a variety of ways that our non-English speaking families can engage with their school, but I would encourage all of those families to reach out directly to their schools. Each of our schools do have employees that are able to translate and/or communicate with our families in Spanish,” Muri said.

As far as attendance, students will have to submit assignments daily to show they're making progress in their work. Typically, teachers know their students are there because they’re having in-person classes.

“In fact today, (Aug. 5) we welcomed our teachers back and they began to learn today about this new way of taking attendance in a COVID-19 world, which is very different from the way we’ve always taken attendance in the school setting so our students and parents will learn about that once school begins next week,” Muri said.

A parent survey conducted at the beginning of July showed that about 65 percent of ECISD families requested face-to-face instruction, either hybrid or full-time, five days a week and 35 percent requested virtual.

“In our most recent survey, once our parents had made decisions about what they wanted for their families, our elementary and middle school students — so pre-k through eighth grade — was about 50-50; about 50 percent of the families requested virtual and approximately 50 percent of those families requested either hybrid or face-to-face …,” Muri said.

“At the high school it was a little different. Approximately 55 percent of our high school students requested completely virtual and about 45 percent of our high school students … requested face-to- face,” Muri said. “That is clearly a change from what was happening during the month of July.”

The most interesting factor in those numbers, he said, was that they were expecting the opposite figures.

“We also weren’t quite sure the comfort level of our community. Our health condition has continued to deteriorate over the last several weeks and we knew that was going to have an impact on the choices our families were making, but we weren’t quite sure what that would be. Now we know that there’s clearly a split in our community. Approximately half in our community are comfortable with their kids at school and half our community would rather keep their kids home, at least for now,” Muri said.

Parents can change their minds at the end of the phase-in process.

“Once phase 4 is finished, that is an opportunity for parents to change their mind. Then from that point forward to the end of every single grading period, a parent can change their mind, so you can switch from hybrid or face-to-face to virtual, but again, the end of every grading period or the end of the phase-in process,” Muri said.

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