McALLEN — Last week the Texas Education Agency announced that it would be safe for public school teachers and students to return to in-person education this fall, but it looks like parents here aren’t so sure.
Out of 7,000 parents surveyed by McAllen ISD, a little less than 40% reported that they would choose distance learning over in-person education in the fall, Superintendent J.A. Gonzalez said. A little less than half responded, indicating they would send their children back for face-to-face education while the remainder reported that they hadn’t made up their minds yet.
Direction from the TEA last week indicated that parents would be given flexibility when it comes to sending their children to campus, and it looks like those survey results could translate to what actually happens on the ground when school starts in McAllen on Aug. 24.
In fact, Gonzalez says the district is expecting that to be the case. He says that the district has plans for all students learning virtually, all students learning in-person and a mic of both, which appears to be the more likely outcome.
“In a stage 2 option we would give parents the choice and students the choice, whether they come to their traditional setting or to take part in our distance learning program,” he said.
According to Gonzalez, that might not be such a bad thing. He says the district is relatively well equipped to teach virtually and that less students on campus will make it easier to fight any potential spread of COVID-19 through the student body.
“What we’re seeing right now is that we’ll have an opportunity to do a better job at social distancing, we’ll have an easier job maneuvering physically because there’ll be less students while we get through this,” he said.
In-person learning doesn’t necessarily mean a return to business as normal. Gonzalez says that while the district expects to stick to a traditional schedule, it also expects to be increasing sanitization efforts and social distancing. There will likely be less desks in classrooms and less kids on school buses in an effort to spread students out — as much as possible, at least.
“We’re going to be doing our best, but when you’re dealing with kids, you can’t walk around with a measuring stick to make sure they’re 6 feet apart,” Gonzalez said.
Teachers and staff will be wearing masks, Gonzalez said, and kids likely will too, but that’s not a certainty. He says the district will provide masks to any student who asks for one, but Gonzalez says he’s not sure they can make the children wear them.
“We’re going to require that staff members wear masks, so as far as staff members, they’re going to have their face coverings. On the legality side of making students wear masks, I’m not certain that we can do that at this point, but we’re going to highly recommend that all students wear face coverings,” he said.
Last week Hidalgo County announced an order requiring business owners make their patrons wear masks. Gonzalez says he’s not sure whether that order applies to his students, but he hopes it does.
“That would make it a lot easier,” he said. “The good thing is that for the most part everybody is kind of following through with that and taking the safer road with regard to their children, so we don’t foresee a big issue with that.”
Despite the predictions and the planning, Gonzalez says that there’s still not a clear picture of what class will look like in the fall.
“There’s still a lot of unknowns. We’re learning every day, we’re adjusting every day, and I think that’s one thing the community understands, is that this is a very fluid, dynamic situation,” he said. “You may get one answer one day, and depending how COVID-19 behaves and what happens, we may have to make adjustments.”