Fort Bend ISD elementary learning centers hit with 'overwhelming' number of requests

FORT BEND COUNTY, Texas -- Fort Bend ISD will delay opening its learning centers until Aug. 19 at the elementary level and Aug. 24 at the secondary level due to a higher-than-expected interest in the program.

The centers, which were initially expected to open on the first day of school, will provide instruction support and child care during online learning.

"[Learning centers are] a topic of great concern, and frankly just anger and frustration for many community members and staff members right now," said FBISD Superintendent Charles Dupre. "It's an innovative concept that was intended to support families in greatest need. I don't think any other district in the state is attempting to do this."

According to data presented at Monday's board of trustees meeting, 15,679 students requested a seat at a learning center.

Of that total, 12,997 students - 6,898 elementary and 6,099 secondary -met the district's eligibility requirements.

"That was overwhelmingly more than we ever imagined would request services," Dupre said.

Students qualified for a seat at a learning center if they are homeless, in the foster care system, have no internet connectivity, or are a child of a FBISD educator or first responder.

On Aug. 19, FBISD will open 11 elementary learning centers, one in each high school feeder pattern, serving 100 students each.

The remaining 5,798 elementary students who do not have a seat at a learning center are on a waiting list.

"As superintendent, I'm disappointed we can't serve everybody," Dupre said. "I just ask for your patience as we continue to move forward with this. I know for many, it caused a spike in their stress levels last week to find out their children are not going to be able to be in a learning center."

District staff said seats at a learning center were reserved for homeless students.

Then children of FBISD educators were prioritized for seats, and the remaining spots at each campus were filled with children of first responders and medical professionals on a first-come, first-served basis.

"The bottom line is that we just don't have enough spots, so we are going to have to prioritize some way, and I appreciate that we are looking out for our homeless kids and our staff and then doing as much as we can for our first responders," said trustee Kristin Tassin.

District staff said getting the elementary learning centers up and running is a priority because of the young age of these children.

The district is hiring monitors for the centers and utilizing existing district employees such as bus drivers, cafeteria workers and substitutes who are idled because of the pandemic.

At the secondary level, all but five campuses will host a learning center, according to information on the district's website.

These centers will be staffed by district employees such as monitors and athletic coordinators who do not have a full-time teaching role.

The district did not say how many of the 6,099 eligible secondary students will be initially served at learning centers.

In addition to the FBISD-run learning centers, the district has partnered with and trained 50 private child care providers on how to operate a learning center in their space.

Dupre also said faith-based organizations, neighborhood groups and nonprofits will partner with the district and serve as learning centers.

"We are truly living our goal of collaborative communities in the way that we are training so many people," Dupre said. "We are working to support anyone we possibly can that would be working with our children."