As the current COVID-19 health order expires on September 7, 2020, officials with Socorro ISD announced their plans to implement a phased approach to transitioning students and staff back to school beginning on September 8, 2020 and continue phasing in students for on-campus instruction through September 28, 2020.
District officials say that the transition will be done ‘safely and cautiously.’
Following guidance from the El Paso Department of Public Health to help limit the spread of COVID-19 in the community, the Socorro Independent School District began instruction for its more than 47,000 students via remote learning on August 17, 2020.
Remote (at-home) learning will continue to be an option throughout the 2020-2021 school year for all families who have chosen remote instruction for their child.
“Keeping Team SISD Safe has been at the forefront of our planning and decision process since day one of our response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. I believe we have done a great job mitigating risks while following guidance and directives by local, state and national authorities,” said Superintendent Jose Espinoza, Ed.D. “Bringing in students at this time is both in line with state mandates and the right thing to do for our families in need.”
TEA waiver to extend transition period beyond four weeks
District administration proactively requested and received approval of a Texas Education Agency waiver allowing for the extension of the at-home learning transition period. As mandated by TEA, the waiver requested an “indication as to the local health conditions that would warrant a faster end to the transition period, so that all students have access to on-campus instruction.”
The district followed the guidance of City and County Health Authority Dr. Hector I. Ocaranza to indicate which parameters would warrant a safe return to school for students and staff.
According to Dr. Ocaranza, the region has currently met the local public health conditions set forth by his department for the safe reopening of schools.
“The parameters previously stated have shown a continuous downward trend in the pandemic indicating that the spread of COVID-19 in our community has slowed down to a level that can be considered as an indicator for return of in-person instruction on campus, in a safe and cautious manner, on or after September 8, 2020,” Dr. Ocaranza said in a memo to school district leaders.
Phased reopening plan
To be in compliance with the TEA waiver requirements as well as the guidance by the local Department of Public Health, Socorro ISD has updated its reopening plans to include a phased-in approach that reflects Dr. Ocaranza’s recommendation “for return of in-person instruction on campus, in a safe and cautious manner.”
“We are working to accommodate our parents and employees to the best of our ability as we strive to provide our students with a quality education in a safe and supportive learning environment,” Espinoza said. “Unfortunately, there are no simple, unilateral solutions that best serve all stakeholders.”
Students unable to connect remotely
The first group of students to return to campus are those who have been served through solely an asynchronous learning model due to lack of internet access. As mandated by TEA, these students shall be provided the opportunity to receive instruction on campus during the district’s transition period.
School personnel have identified students who are not able to connect remotely and have worked diligently to accommodate them with offline learning opportunities through September 4, 2020.
Beginning September 8, 2020, they will be given the opportunity to participate in online remote learning on their campus where a device and internet access will be provided. Parents can also choose to have their children remain off campus and continue with an asynchronous learning model.
Families with extenuating circumstances
Beginning September 14, 2020, a limited number of students whose families have extenuating circumstances may return to campus also to receive online instruction. Parents who have special circumstances are asked to please contact their home campus, so administration can work to support them during the remote learning transition period.
Prior to the return of all faculty and staff, schools will have limited capacity available to provide a safe space and monitoring for students on campus.
“I wish we could bring all students back to school on day one of our transition, but it is critical to implement a phased approach to our return to in-person instruction in order to keep safety as our top priority. Our campus and district staff will take the time during each phase to properly train stakeholders on safety protocols that will ensure our students and staff remain safe and healthy,” said Espinoza.
Families who chose traditional/hybrid, in-person learning model
Students whose parents opted for the traditional/hybrid model on the Parent Scheduling Survey will return to their campuses to receive in-person instruction by their classroom teachers beginning September 28, 2020.
After the completion of the first 9-weeks grading period, parents have the option to change the learning model for their child by contacting their campus. Adjustments to the learning option may result in a change in students’ schedule and/or teacher(s). SISD is working to accommodate students and parents as much as possible.
“Our goal is to continue learning through this challenging time while adapting and adjusting our plans to serve our community the best we can within the guidelines and directives set forth by local and state agencies,” Espinoza concluded.
As with all COVID-19 plans, it is important to note that details may be subject to change pending the state of the local community health and new guidance issued by national, state, and local authorities as the district progresses through the school year.
Socorro ISD Back to School SAFELY Timeline Summary
July 9, 2020 – September 7, 2020: Local health authority order: “School systems shall not re-open for on-campus, face-to-face instruction.”
July 21, 2020: Socorro ISD proactively submits TEA waiver for Board approval.
August 17, 2020: First Day of remote instruction for all students.
August 2020: Local health conditions met prompting district to follow TEA’s requirement to safely transition students back to school sooner.
September 7, 2020: Local health authority order expires.
September 8, 2020: Students who do not have a device/internet access and want to return to campus are provided a safe space to learn remotely inside their school.
All campus personnel, with the exception of teachers and employees approved by HR to work from home, will be required to report to work in order to accommodate this group of students.
All central office staff also will be required to report to work.
September 14, 2020: Students whose families have extenuating circumstances and have been approved by campus are provided a safe space to learn remotely inside their school.
Teachers who have not already started working at their school are highly encouraged to return to their workplace to begin preparing for a safe transition.
September 21, 2020: Teachers will provide in-person instruction to a small group of students (lack device/internet or have extenuating home circumstances).
September 28, 2020: Teachers will provide in-person instruction to all students whose parents opted for the traditional/hybrid learning model on the Parent Scheduling Survey while continuing virtual instruction for students whose parents opted for the remote (at-home) learning model.