To Jennifer Mahan, Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent approval of in-person summer school is a sign that schools will reopen for good in the fall.
Though Mahan’s 7-year-old son, Connor, breezed through most of his at-home assignments from Stephen F. Austin Elementary in Gregory-Portland ISD, time away from his friends and teachers was starting to take a toll. And Mahan has been home-schooling her 4-year-old daughter, Keeley, in preparation for kindergarten.
Mahan, the community engagement coordinator for the Corpus Christi Moms Blog, was able to stay home full time and give Connor the help he needed with schoolwork. Other families aren’t so lucky, she said.
Reopening schools in the fall would be “a good thing,” she said, “and I am glad to see some light at the end of the tunnel.”
But she plans to take precautions: applying hand sanitizer in the car, disinfecting the kids’ backpacks and lunch boxes every day and putting their school clothes right into the laundry.
As the coronavirus pandemic descended upon Texas, Abbott ordered all school districts to close for the rest of the 2019-20 school year; universities and colleges also canceled in-person classes and shifted most classes to online platforms.
Abbott announced in mid-May that K-12 schools can offer in-person summer classes — but that came with recommendations such as limiting groups in enclosed areas to 11 people and eliminating any assemblies or field trips. School districts are still waiting for instructions from state officials about the fall.
More: Abbott: Texas schools can offer in-person summer school starting June 1
Meanwhile, higher education institutions are making their own plans to reopen, including the Texas A&M University System, which has campuses in Corpus Christi and Kingsville.
But even if they do open their doors in the coming months, schools of all levels are going to look different.
“With the current situation that’s going on not just in the county but around the state, it’s not going to be your traditional school year that districts are used to,” Corpus Christi ISD Superintendent Roland Hernandez said.
Several Corpus Christi-area school districts are proceeding with plans to give online summer school. By the time Abbott gave the OK for in-person summer school, Gregory-Portland ISD, for example, was already receiving registrations for its virtual program, spokeswoman Crystal Matern said.
West Oso ISD, however, will ask families whether they prefer virtual learning or a blend of virtual and in-person classes for summer school, which will begin July 15, Superintendent Conrado Garcia said. Up to 400 students may attend summer school, including students who need to recover credits and those who need enrichment.
“There are some parents that are still afraid to send their child to school,” said Cissy Reynolds-Perez, assistant superintendent of West Oso ISD. “So we cannot assume that all 400 kids are going to want to come to school for summer school.”
Depending on how many students want to report to campus, the schools could adopt an alternating schedule — a certain number of students attending on Mondays and Wednesdays, others on Tuesdays and Thursdays, to reduce class sizes.
That could cost the district more, Garcia said, as a greater number of classes would require more teachers.
Garcia said he’s optimistic that schools will open their doors in the fall. The district will survey families about their preference of virtual or in-person learning and their access to technology, Wi-Fi and transportation.
Hernandez, of Corpus Christi ISD, said the district of 36,000 students may take a similar “blended” approach, with some students continuing online learning and others returning to campuses.
Garcia said West Oso may try to attain District of Innovation status, which would give it flexibility to change the school calendar — extending school days, switching to a year-round schedule and other options — with the intent to keep students safe.
The Texas Education Agency is developing a 2020-21 calendar with an earlier start date, a later end date, and longer Thanksgiving, winter and spring breaks. The calendar is meant to minimize potential disruptions from resurgences of the pandemic and allow time to give struggling students support. School boards would need to approve such a calendar for districts to adopt it.
Almost every aspect of school is touched by the pandemic, Garcia said.
There may be double runs of school buses, he said, to avoid seating kids close together.
Kids may have to eat their meals in the classroom.
They may remain in the same classroom throughout the day, with teachers of different subjects switching rooms.
But the idea of bringing kids back into the classroom worries parents like Elisabeth Tabor, who has two children in London ISD.
“It’s impossible to socially distance children,” said Tabor, a former teacher. “I don’t see how realistically we could ever expect teachers to do that.”
Del Mar College has not set a date for resuming normal operations as of May 19, but it’s preparing to offer online, face-to-face and hybrid classes in the fall.
Some programs, particularly skills-based ones — such as industrial and allied health — can’t be completed solely online. Starting May 18, the college, which has been allowing access only to essential personnel, opened access to about 550 students in skills programs so they could complete their spring courses.
A spokeswoman for Texas A&M-Corpus Christi did not answer the Caller-Times’ questions about the school’s preparations for the fall, saying plans are still in the works and will be shared when ready.
Texas A&M-Kingsville is considering a variety of options for classes, including hybrid courses that include virtual and face-to-face meetings, spokeswoman Adriana Garza-Flores said.
Multiple committees are assessing available classroom and lab space on campus for social distancing measures and the safest ways for students to exit and enter buildings and rooms while allowing proper distance.
Classrooms will be fitted with cameras and microphones to record lectures and will be cleaned frequently. Tutoring and advising will be given online.
Residence halls, the student health center, the library, food service, and the student recreation center and union building will be open.
In a memo to faculty and staff, TAMU-CC Provost Clarenda Phillips said more courses than usual will be offered in a combination of online and in-person formats, while some, such as lab and clinical courses, will be prioritized for face-to-face instruction. Faculty members were also asked to consider which of their classes could go completely online.
To reduce class sizes, particularly in large lecture courses, half of the students may meet one day per week and the other half another day, with class content shared online.
There have even been discussions about holding class outdoors, said Diana Ivy, a communications professor.
To Ivy, who has been teaching for 40 years and had never taught a class online until this year, a hybrid class “sounds like a piece of chocolate cake.”
“If I get to see (students) half the time and the other half is online, that’s a lot more fun than what we’re pulling off right now,” Ivy said.
“I pictured myself walking onto campus and going into a classroom, and even as I pictured myself getting the privilege to do that, I started to cry. … This is what I love, and I miss students like crazy.”