BISD to bring staff back into schools on Monday

The Brownsville Independent School District said Wednesday it is moving forward with plans to bring teachers and staff back into schools on Monday as part of a plan to reopen schools to a limited number of students starting next week.

Under the plan, schools would reopen in phases, with high school students needing to recover credit returning on Sept. 23, followed on Sept. 28 by special education students and those without devices or internet access in grades pre-k through 2nd, 8th and 12th grades. Similar such students in 3rd, 4th, 7th and 11th grades would be added on Oct. 5, with those in 5th, 6th, 9th and 10th grades joining them on Oct. 13.

The district said it would open schools to students without computers or internet access, a population estimated at 10% to 15% of BISD’s roughly 40,000 students.

On Friday, state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, sent a letter on the district’s behalf to Gov. Greg Abbott urging him not to require BISD to reopen schools during the second four-week transitional period of the new school year, which begins on Sept 28. Abbott had not responded as of Wednesday.

Also Wednesday, a spokesman for a group that represents BISD teachers expressed dismay that Abbott had not responded to Lucio’s letter and repeated the group’s stance that schools should remain closed to in-person learning throughout the entire fall semester of the 2020-2021 school year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“First of all, it would have been nice if the governor had responded to Sen. Lucio’s letter,” Patrick Hammas, a spokesman for AFT-BEST, a union associated with the American Federation of Teachers and that represents Brownsville educators, said.

“We understand that the district has to follow the governor’s and Texas Education Agency demands and hotspot mandates, but we dispute that anyone else has to come in, in other words students who do have internet access, parents and staff. We stand by our position that the district should remain with 100% distance learning for the entire first semester if at all possible,” Hammas said.

Hammas repeated the union’s position that students as well as teachers, although asymptomatic, can be carriers of the virus.

“Until we get down to what the CDC recommends as safe for a return to school we should not return,” he said.

John Shergold, a Brownsville attorney who has represented members of the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, both in Brownsville and statewide over the past 20 years, said the issues facing teachers contemplating a return to the classroom are complex.

“It’s dangerous to anyone and everyone, and especially those with conditions like diabetes and who are over 60 years old,” he said.

“They are scared and frightened by potential exposure that could take their lives,” he said, adding that teachers are being asked to choose between their health and their careers.

“I’m concerned for the public education system. … We could have a big attrition of school teachers. We don’t need to force teachers into this position.”