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School Districts Prepare For Possible Long-Term Closures

Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT
Students at Dawson Elementary School in Austin get drive-up school lunches while their school is closed because of COVID-19.

From Texas Standard:

With the possibility need for social distancing extending well beyond spring break, parents and educators are starting to plan for the possibility of schools being closed through the end of the academic year.

Aliyya Swaby, education reporter for The Texas Tribune, says more than half of Texas school districts are closed – but not all of them. That's because the state leaves it up to local entities to decide. In other states, schools closures are state-mandated.

Susan Kincannon is superintendent of the Waco Independent School District, and says her district is closed at least through March 27. A large number of students depend on school-provided meals, she says, so the district is preparing and distributing those meals to churches and other places in the community where those kids can be fed.

"We're taking it a week at a time," she says.

August Plock is a high school history teacher in the Pflugerville Independent School District, in Central Texas. His district has an extended spring break, through March 27, and says it will reevaluate then whether to stay closed. The district is considering various options in case students have to learn from home through the rest of the semester, which could include things like online learning, but also less high-tech solutions.

"Potentially looking at low-tech options such as using our school bus fleet, that they would roll through certain neighborhoods on certain days to deliver meals to our students, as well as to drop off packets where students would then have access to work at home," Plock says.

Swaby says the standardized STAAR tests are now optional. The state is making them available to districts that want them. STAAR tests give districts information about student academic performance, which is then used in the statewide school ranking system. But she says most districts will opt out.

As for school employee job security, Plock says public school teacher contracts last through the remainder of the school year. But hourly school employees have less job security. Districts do have emergency funds to cover payroll if needed, but he says Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath has not yet declared an emergency to free up those funds.

For parents who are worried about their kids' education, Kincannon says it's a time for fellow parents – and fellow students – to support each other while kids learn from home.

Swaby says some parents she's talked to are falling through the cracks.

"Not everyone will be reached for those services they'll still need," she says.

Written by Caroline Covington.

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