RAYMONDVILLE — Nearly a third of the Raymondville school district’s students have returned to the classroom amid tight safeguards aimed at protecting them against the coronavirus.
While about 600 students came back to campuses after classrooms opened Sept. 21, about 1,500 are staying home to take on-line courses, Deputy Superintendent Ben Clinton said.
This year, the Texas Education Agency is giving parents a choice nearly eight months after the coronavirus outbreak.
“Parents have a choice of whether they want their children in face-to-face instruction or continue learning remotely,” Clinton said.
From the district’s offices, Superintendent Stetson Roane told parents, “this will be an unusual school year but we remain committed to supporting your child’s learning as well as their safety.”
“For many children, there are distinct benefits to attending school in person, including instructional, social and safety benefits,” he wrote in an Aug. 21 message to parents.
While about 350 students have returned to classrooms at L.C. Smith and Pittman Elementary schools, about 100 are back at Myra Green Middle School and another 100 came back to Raymondville High School, Clinton said.
Across the district, he said, average class sizes are ranging from five to 10 students, with desks at least six feet apart.
Hybrid instruction model
This year, teachers are offering students a mix of classroom instruction and on-line learning.
“Teachers will use a blended learning model that combines face-to-face instruction with on-line learning,” the district’s website states. “Students will have a computer and access to district internet while they complete the same assignments as students working from home.”
Meanwhile, the district is using technology to offer home-bound students a window into the classroom.
“In a lot of cases, while the teachers are teaching we’ve got a camera on them so students working on-line can watch the lessons,” Clinton said. “The teachers are the heroes on the front line. Our teachers are working incredibly hard to provide great remote instruction and rock-solid face-to-face instruction. COVID didn’t change the learning standards for our kids. ”
In this farming community plagued with one of Texas’ highest jobless rates, administrators are equipping students who don’t have computers or internet access at home.
“Raymondville ISD will check-out a device for each student whose family indicated that they do not have access to a device at home,” the district’s website states.
“Raymondville ISD will provide wireless internet in the parking lot of each campus. Students will be allowed to download instructional materials from inside their vehicle.”
For classroom and on-line instruction, teachers are preparing the same lesson plans.
“Grading for students learning remotely is the same as face-to-face learners,” Clinton said. “Standards are the same. They’ve got to learn the same information.”
First lesson: Coronavirus
As the school year opened, helping students protect themselves against the coronavirus was the subject of instruction.
“During the first week of instruction, students will be taught proper hand-washing, mask-wearing and physical distancing procedures,” the website states.
Student, staff member test positive
So far, district officials have reported two cases of COVID-19.
On Sept. 17, a high school student left an after-school activity after contracting the virus, Clinton said.
Then on Sept. 21, he said, a Myra Green staff member left campus after becoming infected.
“There was no transfer,” Clinton said. “Nobody else got sick.”
The district, which has trained its staff to help protect students against COVID-19, is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
Across the district, students and staff are required to wear face coverings.
Meanwhile, teachers wear face coverings, face shield and gloves when working closely with students, Clinton said.
In each classroom and throughout school buildings, the district has also installed hand sanitizers.
Throughout the day, officials are also requiring students to take scheduled “hand-washing breaks.”
As part of the action plan, staff members are “self-screening” themselves while recommending parents screen their children for COVID-19 symptoms before they arrive on campus.
Officials are also screening visitors.
“The district provides adults with personal protective equipment as they enter district buildings,” the website states.
Officials are also counting on technology to help fight the coronavirus.
This summer, the district spent $626,000 to purchase needlepoint bipolar ionization technology to install in its air-conditioning and heating units to kill pathogens including viruses.
The district has installed the technology across its 500,000 square-feet of classrooms, gymnasiums, cafeterias and offices, Clinton has said.
“I believe the proactive measures of needlepoint ionizers and face-covering combined with frequent hand-washing has given our community the advantage of preventing the spread of the virus in our school district,” Roane stated.
Officials are also battling COVID-19 on the district’s buses, where anti-virus technology has also been installed.
“Students will wear a mask and will be spaced six feet apart on the bus,” the website states. “Bus drivers will be provided the same (personal protective equipment) as classroom teachers. Bus drivers disinfect the bus after each morning run and afternoon run.”