Kids will get taught, teachers will get paid, patience needed on timeline

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- As schools across Texas continue delaying when students will return back to school this spring, Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen said more than 1,000 superintendents are having to make difficult decisions.

Some of the region's largest districts, like Houston, Fort Bend, Cypress-Fairbanks, Katy and Galveston ISDs aren't slated for students to return to class until April 13.

Click here for a full list of school closures.

Schools announced the closures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines that people don't gather in crowds larger than 50 people.

"(Parents) deserve the best information as soon as we have it," Bonnen, an Angleton Republican, told ABC13 during a Houston visit Tuesday. "Every day we get more information and you know, the truth of it is, I think we all would hope this doesn't become a bigger deal, a bigger deal, bigger deal. As it does, it forces a more strong response in our decision making."

Bonnen said one reason for allowing each district to make decisions based on their own individual needs is because some areas of the state, such as the Panhandle, have not had any coronavirus cases and may decide it is safe for students to return sooner than districts in other, affected-area regions.

RELATED: Texas schools may close for rest of the school year

Still, regardless of whether or not a school chooses to remain open, he said the state is committed to funding every school based on enrollment.

"We did not want a single school district worrying about making this decision for the health of our students based on their funding so that concern has been removed," Bonnen said. "There is zero reason for a teacher or support staff at a local school district to not be paid. ... I don't want a teacher in Texas or a janitorial service or a food service person today or in the future worried about their paycheck because of what is going on."

With his own two children now at home, Bonnen said it's on everyone to make sure students and educators are still making an effort through distance learning.

"(Districts) do have a legal obligation to make an effort for the children to be educated," Bonnen said. "We as parents are going to have to be a part of that education process. Most school districts that have had to cancel are sending their assignments home and parents have to help their children and make sure those assignments are being completed."

But, as more K-12 public schools in the Houston area are considering online, remote learning, that could be a challenge for some students who don't have reliable access to that technology.

Statewide, 28 percent of households in Texas don't have high-speed internet access that allows video streaming.

Bonnen, who will step down as speaker in January, is in daily contact with Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath. He said Morath put together a committee of more than 30 statewide educators who are working to build individual plans so the state's hundreds of school districts have some guidance on how to deal with the unprecedented school closures.

"You have some districts that don't have the dollars to have sent, say a Chromebook home with every student," Bonnen said. "We're figuring out how to meet all the needs of all the kids and letting there be diversity to that answer because the problem is a diverse problem."

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Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen said more than 1,000 superintendents are having to make difficult decisions.



Bonnen said his son's teachers have already sent in assignments that need to be completed, but he does understand that there are some districts that don't have the finances or technology to be able to start implementing distance learning today.

He said the state is "absolutely" committed to finding financial aid for districts who don't have the resources to provide at-home learning.

"That's where we're really having to problem solve," Bonnen said. "The state is committed to supporting all our school districts 100 percent through this process. ... We're seeing tremendous amount of dollars. We have to give credit to the feds. They're passing legislation with billions of dollars to flood to the states, into local communities to provide that."

In the meantime, Bonnen said he's heard of some schools delivering paper assignments to students so they can learn from home.

RELATED: Students face digital divide as schools consider online learning

Local districts, like Houston and Fort Bend ISDs, said earlier this month that they are considering how to best educate students while they're away from the classroom. But, specific plans for what distance learning will look like have not been released.

More than 180,000 households within Houston ISD's boundaries don't have a computer. About 38 percent of households don't have broadband.

HISD Superintendent Dr. Grenita Lathan said on March 6 that she will be ready to provide services to students, including the possibility of distance learning, where students can utilize laptops and learn online.

"Every high school student in our district has access to their own personal laptop device, so we're looking at plans for elementary and middle school students," she said earlier this month.

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