Harlingen school district releases new plan for school year

HARLINGEN — It’s time to get plugged in.

When teachers and students in the Harlingen school district begin the 2020-2021 school year Sept. 8, they’ll start off with 100 percent remote learning.

“For four weeks we’re going to be with 100 percent remote,” said Shane Strubhart, spokesperson for the district.

“On week five we’re going to start working on a gradual reentry plan for students to either continue remote, or for those families that want to do face to face or hybrid, they can start transitioning,” Strubhart said.

The HCISD website states that the Texas Education Agency has allowed districts throughout the state to implement the four-week transition period to reopen schools. TEA has made this arrangement in response to “varying community health conditions across the state.”

“After careful consideration and discussing plans with multiple layers of the school community including City Council PTA officers and PTA presidents from all the campuses, HCISD has decided to implement this four-week transition in our reopening plans for the 2020-2021 school year,” says the HCISD.org website.

Superintendent Art Cavazos commended residents for their patience in these uncertain times.

“This year has been extremely unpredictable, and I understand that many of you are going through so much,” Cavazos said. “Just this past weekend we experienced the effects of Hurricane Hanna as it swept across our communities bringing floods, power outages, and other damages — all of this in the middle of the current pandemic.”

He acknowledged the challenges some families face with remote learning.

“We recognize the impact this decision will have on our students and families, particularly those who lack internet connectivity and/or childcare,” he said. “HCISD is currently working on a plan to support these families during the transition period.”

More information about digital learning will be available in the weeks leading up to the first day of school. To facilitate this learning curve, the district will launch its HCISD Virtual Academy on Aug. 10. More information about that can be found at www.hcisd.org/PTR.

The district has already begun assessing need to ensure all students have the necessary digital devices for remote learning, said Veronica Kortan, administrator for organizational development for the Harlingen district.

Kortan said the district will have “Park and Learn” for students to park outside a campus, log on with their digital devices, and do their work. The district will also send Mobile Internet Units into residential areas lacking Internet access. The mobile units will give students in the neighborhood a way to log on with their devices from home.

When the COVID 19 pandemic struck in March, the Harlingen school board and administrators mobilized immediately. They closed all campuses and worked long hours to develop School@Home, using online platforms for teachers to instruct students in the safety of their homes.

They set up stations for students to pick up digital devices. Those without internet access at home could obtain paper packets at campuses.

The district opened up some campuses and classrooms for summer school in-person instruction. The district then released its “Pathways to Reopening” which detailed what the new school year would look like, explaining the specifics of both in-class learning and virtual instruction. Parents were allowed to state whether they wanted their kids to attend class or continue virtual learning.

Then, COVID 19 cases and fatalities in both Cameron and Hidalgo counties soared into the triple digits, striking fear in parents, teachers and students alike. When the Texas Education Agency mandated that schools would still have to offer in-class instruction, teachers protested.

“We want our district to go online for the safety of our students and staff,” said Maggie Inglett, president of the Harlingen Texas State Teachers Association, at a protest in early July.

“I know HCISD is working and doing everything possible in the schools to disinfect and have all the precautions in place,” Inglett said. “But, we feel that having ten students in a classroom is still very detrimental to the students and to the teachers and every staff member that’s there.”

The same day of the protest, the state mandated that school districts postpone in-person instruction until Sept. 8. The Harlingen school district then determined to push back the first day of school until that date.

Now parents, students and teachers have a better idea of how the first few months of school will roll out.

“Those that are doing remote and want to stay remote can continue doing that,” Strubhart said. “Those that chose the hybrid pathway or the face to face pathway will begin those transitions.”

Hybrid offers a combination of both remote and in-person learning.

Strubhart said there will also be a transition plan for teachers reluctant to return to in-person instruction in early October.

“They will have an option in the first two weeks of the remote instruction to go in if they want to,” he said. “Some teachers feel more comfortable working from the classroom. They won’t have any students in there during this remote period but they may feel more comfortable because all the materials are there.”

Cavazos said additional changes could be made in the coming months in response to the pandemic.

“I know our students are eager to return to school, and I realize this crisis has been challenging for all of our families,” Cavazos said. “I want you to know that we understand your concerns and will continue to work diligently to provide quality educational opportunities for each and every student in our district while keeping them safe and healthy.”