As of this week, teachers are back to work and our entire organization is gearing up for the first day of school. FBISD team members at all levels of the organization have worked throughout the summer to prepare for the new school year, and there is still much to do. Teachers are busy learning the various tools and systems that will be used to deliver a rigorous online learning experience, as well as the important health and safety protocols that apply to adults and students alike.
By the time we welcome a student into the building, staff will be well trained to protect their well-being, and in the meantime, as students learn from home, we will be intentional about building relationships and supporting their emotional well-being. We recognize the gravity of the situation: our students have not been in school since early March, and we, like you, want our students back in classrooms and schools as soon as possible. Unfortunately, that time is not now.
One important lesson we have already learned is that things will continue to change throughout the fall semester. Although our plans are well-developed, we continue to face challenges and uncertainty that cause us to reflect and, at times, shift our direction. Today, I must make you aware of two important changes related to student instruction.
Due to various constraints, we will not be able to open Learning Centers on Monday, August 17, the first day of school. Elementary Learning Centers will open on Wednesday, August 19, and secondary Learning Centers are scheduled to open on Monday, August 24. I must also share that we will not be able to begin serving special education students on campus until Monday, August 24. These changes are required for the following reasons:
Special Education – Extended Face to Face Model
1. We are facing significant staffing issues because many teachers and other staff required to open some special education programs are reluctant to work in a face-to-face environment. The numbers are changing daily, as staff members previously committed to teaching face-to-face but changed their decision. We are diligently working through these issues, but it will take some time. And we may not be able to offer programs at a campus you are expecting to attend. It may be necessary to combine programs based on available staffing. Through the ARD process, many students served with special education services have been identified for face-to-face services. Special education staff from the district and campus levels will continue to work directly with parents regarding services, placement, and timeframe for your children. You may expect they will be in touch with you before August 17 to update on how your student will engage in instruction on the first day of school.
2. We have received over ten thousand requests for seats in Learning Centers, which means requests must be prioritized based on need. It is important that our community understand that, as we have shared previously, seats at Learning Centers are extremely limited, and we will not be able to accommodate the majority of the requests that we have received. We recognize that our parents, many of them who are also FBISD staff, are anxious to learn about their eligibility status so that they can make alternate arrangements if necessary, but we also recognize that we must carefully prioritize and vet all of the requests to ensure that we are serving our students who are most in need. Students who are homeless or in foster care, those without any form of internet connectivity, and children of teachers without other options for childcare will be assigned to the first available seats. We will also attempt to accommodate as many children of first responders as possible, as we recognize they also play a critical role in supporting our FBISD community.
3. Elementary Learning Centers: By the end of the week, our Extended Learning Department will notify parents if their student is eligible for a reserved seat at an Elementary Learning Center, and these parents will be need to take action immediately to verify their eligibility and confirm their seat. Likewise, we will also notify parents who will need to make alternate arrangements at this time due to the limited availability of seats.
4. Secondary Learning Centers: To support our secondary students, we have also worked to develop a Secondary Learning Center model at most of our secondary campuses. This model will be implemented and managed at the campus level, and seats will also be limited. Again, we will prioritize to ensure that we are reserving the seats for our homeless or foster care students, those without internet connectivity and children of our instructional staff. However, more time is needed to implement these plans, and parents of any eligible students will be notified at a later date, as our most immediate focus is our elementary-aged students.
As a parent, I know this news is disappointing, and I understand the pressure this change places on working families. And, as superintendent, I am disappointed we have to change course. Like everything else during this pandemic, we are striving to overcome hurdles and obstacles that can prevent us from fulfilling our promises to our students and community. But we will prevail, because we are working to achieve a most important mission – instilling our students with the knowledge and skills that will help them to achieve their full potential and a future beyond what they can imagine.
We need and value your partnership, even when things are not going as planned. Our children are counting on all of us to help them through this most challenging season of life. Please continue to follow our regular updates from the district and campus. And trust that your public school district is up to the task of serving your children in a way that will make this another outstanding school year, even under these unique circumstances. We look forward to working with students virtually on the first day of school, Monday, August 17.