As school districts begin to hash out COVID-19 guidelines from state officials, Weatherford ISD recently released its Smart Start Back to School Plan.
The document details remote and in-person instruction, safety precautions, attendance and grading.
“The response that I’ve gotten has been phenomenal. There was a lot of information in there and it was very transparent — the community seemed to be accepting of it, the parents seemed to be accepting of it, it was very well written, it was well thought up — and I’m very impressed with what staff and everybody has done on that,” WISD Board President Mike Guest said at a recent board of trustees meeting. “I know there’s a lot to go, there’s going to be some changes and we’ll have to move around as we get some more advice from the state and [Texas Education Agency] that may come down, but it gave the community a lot of comfort to know how we were going to handle everything.”
The district has its first day of school listed as Aug. 20.
According to health and safety section, Weatherford ISD will follow federal, state and local mandates and the use of non-medical grade face coverings will be enforced in all WISD facilities for students, staff and visitors. All buildings will post self-screening and mitigation practices and classrooms will be arranged to provide the maximum social distancing possible within the constraints presented by the facility and the functions within the classroom. When permitted, student gatherings will be held outdoors and large group meetings and assemblies will be limited and held virtually and outdoors when feasible. Shared drinking areas, such as water fountains, will be closed and restroom capacity will be limited. There are many other health and safety instructions detailed in the document.
WISD will offer remote learning through its Virtual Learning Academy, which will be taught by a certified WISD teacher but not necessarily a teacher from the student’s home campus. The VLA will have a separate instructional design, but will address the same standards and grading guidelines as face-to-face instruction. WISD recommends that students in Pre-K through second grade use iPads and third through 12th grades use a Chromebook or laptop. Students will be able to check out a district device and/or internet hotspots as needed.
“At this time we’ve had 1,775 students who have selected whether they wanted to be online or in person and at this point about 27% of our students have selected online and so we’re continuing to monitor that,” WISD Superintendent Dr. Beau Rees said.
Students in specialized programs will be receiving individualized plans once they are finalized, according to the WISD plan.
The deadline for parents and students to share their preferred learning experience was extended to Aug. 5 and can be done by logging into Skyward Family Access.
State Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, said he is a strong advocate for students returning to the classroom, but respects each school district’s decisions.
“The problems, including the health risks, that are caused by them not being there I think are equal to or surpass the risk of them being in school, so I’m a strong advocate that they just need to go. The state has given [districts] the flexibility, so they can essentially close for eight weeks for remote learning or some hybrid, and they’re going to get full funding for that,” King said. “My strong encouragement is to open school and make it as normal as possible. Obviously use common sense measures, but at the end of the day, in a school setting just like with the flu and the stomach virus, things are going to pass around — I don’t care how careful you are. The surveys I’ve seen that almost every district has done, in our area, anywhere from 70-90% of the parents want to go back to school, too.”
According to WISD’s Smart Start Back to School Plan, students are required to attend at least 90% of the days a course is offered, with some exceptions, to receive credit and be promoted, and remote attendance will count in the same manner as on-campus attendance. The grading policy for remote instruction must be consistent with the district’s grading policies for on-campus assignments, according to TEA guidelines. The virtual academy courses that earn high school credit will count in the students’ GPA calculation and class rank.
Meeting with Parker County ISD superintendents on a regular basis, King said he’s proud of the school districts.
“We’ve had just constant interaction with them and they’re really trying to be creative. My encouragement to them is to go ahead and put the kids back in school and go ahead and open the doors, and make accommodations for staff members that have special health issues. We just have to get our kids back in school,” King said. “The overwhelming message I would say from our school administrators has been that we need as much flexibility and local control as possible, which I agree with completely. We’ve slowly been able to peel those layers of the onion away and made a lot of progress.”
For more details about WISD’s Smart Start plan visit www.weatherfordisd.com.