Harlingen schools now offering in-person instruction

HARLINGEN — It’s ready.

They’ve been stuck at home for months, logging in to class amidst the distractions and isolation of their separate environs.

Now Harlingen schoolchildren are trickling back, just a few, seeking at least some semblance of physical interaction with teachers and classmates.

The Harlingen school district begins its transition Monday, offering students the opportunity for some face-to-face instruction if they so choose. They can also remain in virtual learning or have a hybrid of both in-person and virtual learning.

About 30 percent of the district’s 18,000-plus students have chosen to re-enter classrooms. The Harlingen district’s Re-Entry Plan for Face-to-Face and Hybrid Instruction posted on its website allows different students to enter schools on select days, said Shane Strubhart, spokesperson for the district.

“Systems have been put in place and we are ready to begin accepting students,” Strubhart said.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March, the district closed all campuses and developed a system to teach all students online. Campuses opened briefly for summer school then closed when coronavirus cases spiked across the Valley.

In response to this spike, the school district began 2020-2021 school year Sept. 8, weeks later than scheduled. In accordance with state mandate, the district planned to offer face-to-face instruction beginning Monday. Last week, however, the Texas Education Agency gave school districts in the Rio Grande Valley the option of delaying that transition for a month, but the district chose to move forward with the transition schedule.

Safety, as always, is the top priority.

Teachers at Harlingen School of Health Professions prepare for face-to-face learning on Oct. 2. The Harlingen school district begins its transition Monday in offering students the opportunity for some face-to-face instruction if they so choose. (Courtesy photo)

“We’re going to ask that parents do a check at home to ensure their children are not feeling ill before they leave,” Strubhart said. “If they’re dropping off their children at school, we ask that they stay in their vehicles. A school employee will take their temperature before they get out of the car.”

If the student’s temperature is within the normal range, he or she will be allowed into the school, with a face mask.

“We’re gonna ask that they go straight to class,” Strubhart said. “They won’t be like they normally do, congregating anywhere.”

Signs posted throughout each campus will direct students to remain six feet apart and wear masks. Desks, tables and chairs have been organized to facilitate social distancing. The Harlingen School of Health Professions already had the new-fangled furniture needed for changing accommodations.

“Our desks, their unique shape has allowed them to be paired together,” said Tina Garza, principal of HSHP.

“It makes a very neat and flexible work space for our students, so they have actually doubled the space to be able to put their devices and any of their personal things that they need,” Garza said. “We are organizing our furniture, laying out our protocols, following all of our district’s safety guidelines and just getting the space ready to welcome back our students.”

Guidelines such as distance will be further implemented by the timing and manner of re-entry, what Strubhart called “staggering.” For example, Monday in the elementary schools only pre-K, kindergarten, first and second-grade students are returning to school. Third, fourth and fifth grade students aren’t coming back Monday.

Unless …

“A sibling that’s in third, fourth or fifth grade, that sibling can join them,” Strubhart said. “If I’m a pre-K, kinder, first or second grade at the elementary level, and I go week one, if I have a sibling, then my sibling can join me at an older grade level.”

A similar arrangement is in place at the middle school, where only sixth graders — and their siblings — are in attendance.

“If they have a sibling that’s in seventh or eighth grade, that sibling can join them as well,” he said.

Teachers at Harlingen School of Health Professions prepare for face-to-face learning on Oct. 2. The Harlingen school district begins its transition Monday in offering students the opportunity for some face-to-face instruction if they so choose. (Courtesy photo)

At the high school level, only seniors are returning this week, plus their brothers and sisters at the sophomore or junior levels. At Dr. Abraham P. Cano Freshman Academy, which is only one grade level, this week students whose last names begin A – G will attend school.

Students in class this week will remain home next week and log-in to class while the others take their turns in class. Both groups will switch places each week.

In the high school career and technology classes such as welding, all students will attend class this week to accommodate the hands-on requirements of those trade classes.

It’s even more tricky for students preferring a hybrid of face-to-face and virtual learning.

“How that’s going to work is, Monday and Tuesday is going to be designated for students whose last name begins with A through L,” he said. “Wednesdays and Thursdays will be designated for students that have last names that start M through Z. All the hybrid kids will be remote on Fridays.”

More concisely, hybrid students will attend school face to face two days a week.

At Dr. Abraham P. Cano Freshman Academy, which is only one grade level, this week students whose last names begin A – G will attend school.

Students in class this week will remain home next week and log-in to class while the others take their turns in class. Both groups will switch places each week.

Strubhart emphasized again this schedule applies only to the 30 percent of students who have chosen face-to-face or hybrid learning. The other 70 percent who chose to continue with only remote learning will do so.

For more information, see the re-entry plan on the district’s website at www.hcisd.org

twhitehead@valleystar.com