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Marble Falls Independent School District officials are still ironing out the details for the start of the 2020-21 school year in an effort to balance varying opinions about COVID-19 prevention of parents, physicians and lawmakers.
"One of the challenges is how politicized this issue has become," M:FISD Superintendent Chris Allen said. "Trying to find a reasonable balance, sort of taking it all in, and determining what the next step should be has been a challenge."
District administration plans to release the finalized plan no later than Aug. 3 - two weeks before the start of school - and the school board will hold a meeting on Friday, July 31 to discuss the specifics.
"I will tell you that the plans are all flexible," Allen said. "The things we're trying to do is make in-person (instruction) healthy and make remote (instruction) meaningful for kids."
Parents and students will have in-person and remote learning options when school starts, currently scheduled for Aug. 19. The district is asking parents to make a decision about the first nine weeks by July 27 in order to give teachers and administrators ample time to plan for student arrival.
Students will be able to change their method of instruction, however. Allen proposed allowing a parent to move their student from remote learning to in-person learning after four weeks, otherwise the student must remain remote until the end of the first grading period. Texas Education Agency guidelines suggest every nine weeks.
“We’re going to have an ‘on-ramp’ at four weeks, nine weeks and the end of semester,” Allen said.
A parent will be able to move their student from in-person to remote learning at any time with short notice.
“What we can’t have is someone calling the school the same day and saying ‘we decided to go to remote,’” Allen said.
Several elements of the return to school plan are still up in the air, including which students will be required to wear face coverings. According to Gov. Greg Abbott’s current order, children 10 and over are required to cover their nose and mouth, but Allen said an age boundary presents problems.
“We’re asking they make it based on grade level, not age,” he said. “One of the challenges is we’ll have classes with nine and 10 year olds. That puts us in a bind.”
Other measures district officials are considering include:
• Lower volume of visitors at campuses.
“We’re not talking about no one coming on campus,” Allen said. “We’re just going to clamp down on who gets to come in the building and why.”
• Elimination of semester tests.
“We have to have a long conversation about exam exemption at the high school,” Allen said. “We don’t want kids feeling like they have to be in attendance if they’re sick.”
Any student who displays symptoms of the novel coronavirus will be sent home for no less than 72 hours, and the district will be asking parents to pick the student up in a quicker time frame than previously asked.
“If we have a student who tests positive for COVID, parents of all students who may have been in contact will be notified,” Allen said.
• Establishment of outdoor eating areas for lunch time.
“There are concerns about the school environment feeling isolated,” Allen said. “Maybe we could get these large tents like you see at outdoor weddings or outdoor venues. Maybe we could spread kids out, and they could still talk across distance to have a real lunch time experience.”
• And options for older or “vulnerable” teachers to continue work without risking health.
“We have a process through our HR department if [teachers] feel they have a reason to be concerned,” Allen said. “If there’s issues, we have a way of working with teachers on how to address it.”
In other actions, the board:
• Approved $48,178 for luxury vinyl tile (LVT) in the Marble Falls High School cafeteria.
At the previous meeting, the board approved the work, but the quote of $26,736 was for the lower quality vinyl composite tile (VCT).
“LVT is a better product,” MFISD Assistant Superintendent of Administration Jeff Gasaway said. “We want to go with the higher quality product. The amount quoted (last meeting) was inaccurate.
“The new price is correct and includes labor,” he added.
• Approved $44,277.12 for licensing and support for internal networks used by the district.
The contract is renewed annually and is 80 percent refunded by E-rate. Once the receipt is provided, the district will be refunded $35,421.70.
E-rate is a TEA program that provides funding to districts for telecommunications services, internet access and more.
The board will hold a special meeting on Friday, July 31 to discuss the finalized details of the plan to return to school. It will be held at 3 p.m. at the administration building, 1800 Colt Circle.
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