McALLEN — McAllen ISD has updated its position on the return to in-person learning and the resumption of on-campus fall sports practices and other extracurricular activities, as the district continues to negotiate the safest way forward to return its students to campus.

The McAllen ISD board decided in a 6-1 vote on Monday evening to give superintendent J.A. Gonzalez the authority to delay the district’s return to on-campus learning by up to an additional four weeks at his discretion based upon evolving local public health conditions.

“I can’t say that we’re going with an additional four weeks; that’s got to come from the superintendent,” McAllen ISD board member Conrado Ito Alvarado said. “That’s what he asked for and that’s what we did last night.”

Texas Education Agency COVID-19 guidelines state that schools and school districts throughout the state may begin school with virtual or remote learning options only for the first eight weeks of the academic year. Schools and districts are also able to petition the TEA for a waiver to extend that time frame, like La Joya ISD, if they are deemed to be in the midst of a novel coronavirus hot-spot area.

As things stand currently, McAllen ISD will now be able to continue with online-only learning into mid-October at the latest, although Alvarado notes that the district may elect to return to the classrooms earlier than expected.

“The first four weeks were set to expire Sept. 18, but what we did yesterday is approve a waiver to allow the superintendent to continue up to four more weeks if he deems it necessary,” Alvarado said. “Now, if he takes all four weeks, then we’re going until Oct. 16 and then we’ll start school (on campuses) Oct. 18

The big news about McAllen ISD’s decision on a sports front was that it decided it will allow on-campus fall sports practices for cross-country, football, tennis and volleyball to resume, in addition to other school-sponsored extracurricular activities.

A current Hidalgo County public health order forbids schools or school districts from resuming in-person learning and on-campus practices, athletic competitions and extracurricular activities until after Sept. 27.

Alvarado told The Monitor that McAllen ISD schools are planning to resume on-campus practices at all their schools in late September to use as a “dry run” to see what works well and what doesn’t before the district tries to bring upwards of 25,000 students and faculty back to each of its campuses later in the year.

“The million-dollar question that everyone’s been asking me is about sports, specifically about fall sports, and I’ve said, ‘Nothing has changed,’” he said. “I kind of thought this was going to happen, that we would ask for more time. You can look at it a couple of ways. … When we start school, the student-athletes would come first (at the end of September) and have that three-week period where they acclimatize and have strength and conditioning and get ready for the fall sports.

“You’ll have three weeks (to get ready) and the first games for some of them are not going to be until Oct. 23. I think the other way of looking at it too, for me, is that we bring the student-athletes in first at the end of September and we get a little period for some adjusting with student-athletes on the campus and how to deal with them. Are we doing all the things that we need to do to keep them safe? Do we have testing down? We’re hoping to address all those things.”

McAllen Memorial, which released its updated 2020 varsity football schedule Monday afternoon, is tentatively slated to kick off the Rio Grande Valley high school football season with a scrimmage Oct. 15 against Edinburg Vela and start the regular season off with a bang when the Mustangs are scheduled to host the Sharyland Pioneer Diamondbacks and senior quarterback Eddie Lee Marburger, The Monitor’s 2019 All-Area High School Football Players of the Year.

The University Interscholastic League, the governing body overseeing most Texas public high school athletics, also stated this summer that it would allow schools to host on-campus practices and athletic events without requiring them to return to in-person instruction first to do so.

Additionally, Alvarado explained that the district is currently developing a “parent’s choice” plan as it relates to the rest of the 2020-21 school year after the online-only learning mandate expires.

Under this proposal that’s currently in the workshop phase of discussions, parents and guardians of McAllen ISD students would be able to decide for themselves whether they want their children to return to in-person, on-campus learning or continue with remote and virtual learning options.

McAllen ISD has previously stated that it will allow parents and students to make those decisions for one grading period at a time with the potential to switch plans when and if public health conditions begin to change again.

“Our superintendent is coming up with a plan to accommodate both (groups). There are some students who need to be back on campus to learn, so we’re trying to expedite that,” Alvarado said. “He’s just trying to balance everything like the health of the students and their educational needs. Right now, he asked for the additional four weeks, and the board just voted to give him that.”


Twitter: @ByAndyMcCulloch