BISD to start school remotely on Aug. 25

Classes will begin Aug 25 for the Brownsville Independent School District’s 43,000 students after an emergency school board meeting Wednesday during which the district nailed down the long-awaited details for the start of the 2020-2021 school year.

All classes will be via distance learning, but teachers will have the option of teaching remotely from home or remotely from their classrooms, the BISD Board of Trustees decided in approving an amended 2020-2021 instructional calendar and a resolution supporting orders from Gov. Greg Abbott, County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr., and Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez that schools remain closed for in-person instruction until conditions allow them to safely reopen.

The development came after Abbott and the Texas Education Agency gave schools across the state the flexibility to stay closed for face-to-face instruction without risking state funding. In recent days, positive cases of COVID-19 have spiked in Brownsville and Cameron County, filling hospitals to capacity and prompting a public health emergency. Late last week TEA had issued an order requiring schools to open for in-person instruction five days a week for all students who wanted it, but the state agency reversed course a few days later.

“We have been waiting patiently for distance learning as the only option to open the school year,” BISD Superintendent Rene Gutierrez said shortly after Wednesday’s meeting concluded. “Thankfully, the Texas Education Agency has now given us the flexibility to have distance learning as the only option. As a district we are ready to proceed with a plan for action for all BISD staff, students and teachers that keeps everyone safe.”

Several times during the meeting Gutierrez had said BISD was taking action at the appropriate time, after it had gotten a definitive decision from TEA. Having developed multiple contingency plans during months of planning since the coronavirus pandemic started in March, BISD can now move forward in one clear-cut direction instead of having to address several possibilities, he said.

Gutierrez said BISD will be doing everything possible to comply with the directive from Education Commissioner Mike Morath to halt the “COVID slide.” All students have regressed during the pandemic and it is BISD’s job now to bring them up to grade level, he said.

Responding to concerns from several members, the board directed removal of a paragraph in the city’s resolution stating that certain special education students would not return to on-campus, face-to-face instruction until the 2021-2022 school.

Board attorney Baltazar Salazar said those students need face-to-face instruction the most and likely have regressed the most. He said he was working with attorneys for the county and the city to modify language in the resolution to reflect BISD’s legal obligation to educate all students equally.

Board vice president Drue Brown urged the district to take steps toward providing top-notch online education, as opposed to implementing distance learning on the fly, as was done at the beginning of the pandemic.