Schools plan for coming academic year

HARLINGEN — Across the country, school districts are planning for one of the most challenging school years in modern history as officials monitor the coronavirus and speculate on the strength of its emergence this fall.

In Harlingen, district officials are considering staggering classroom days to help maintain students’ social distancing during the school year that might start earlier than usual.

Meanwhile, San Benito officials are proposing options including a plan in which half of the students receive traditional classroom instruction while others work online from their homes.

In Texas, the Texas Education Agency is guiding districts as they map the course for the upcoming year.

Now, some districts are planning to open the school year with a program based on traditional classroom instruction, Raymondville Deputy Superintendent Ben Clinton said Tuesday.

But a spike in COVID-19 cases could force districts to close their doors, shifting to online instruction, San Benito Superintendent Nate Carman stated.

“It’s a huge challenge with many unknowns,” Gerry Fleuriet, the Harlingen school board’s vice president, said. “Our school district is in the process of working on various scenarios. The decision of which plan to use will be made when we get a little closer. We’re monitoring very closely what is happening to the COVID virus.”

As officials plan for the upcoming year, student safety is their top priority.

“It’s unprecedented,” Orlando Lopez, president of the San Benito school board, said. “We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do. We’re in the business of educating our kids.”

Social distancing

In Harlingen, officials are considering starting the school year earlier, Fleuriet said.

“Some school districts plan to start earlier to close earlier,” she said.

Fleuriet said options also include staggering classroom days to help maintain social distancing guidelines of at least six feet between students.

“I know we’re trying to maintain social distancing,” she said.

Hybrid instruction model

In San Benito, officials are considering a mix of traditional instruction and online classes, Carman stated.

“Some options being considered range from the traditional full face-to-face model — which is unlikely — to a full remote model similar to what we implemented during the COVID-19 school closer but using what we’ve learned to improve said model,” he stated.

Carman described a mix as “a more realistic option being highly considered at this point.”

Officials are leaning toward implementing the hybrid program, Lopez said.

“That’s something that in our situation would work better,” he said.

Officials “could bring in half of the students — or fewer — for live instruction while providing online instruction to a portion of the students in their homes,” Carman stated. “These students would alternate between live instruction and remote instruction.”

Planning for potential spike

A spike in COVID-19 cases could force the district to close its classrooms, shifting to online instruction, Carman stated.

“If a need arose due to a spike in COVID-19 cases, we would be prepared for 100-percent remote instruction,” Carman stated.

Now, officials are buying technology to allow them to shift from traditional instruction mixed with online learning to a fully remote program.

“We are already in the process of purchasing additional technology to implement this hybrid model and/or a remote model,” Carman stated.