HISD to begin 2020-2021 academic school year online for 6 weeks

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Houston ISD students won't be heading into the classroom anytime soon.

All students will begin the school year virtually when classes begin on Sept. 8.

HISD Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan made the announcement Wednesday on the district's Facebook page.

Online instruction will continue for six weeks through Oct. 16, according to Lathan. She said the decision was based on the increased number of COVID-19 cases in Houston and Harris County.

"Given the threat of COVID-19, we will not put the health and safety of our students and staff at risk," she said during a briefing hours after the announcement was released.

After Sept. 8, students will be phased back into the classroom for face-to-face instruction starting Oct. 16. Parents will have the option to opt out of the in-person instruction for the remaining semester or the full school year.

Lathan said HISD will call parents on Aug. 24, asking for their decision.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about HISD's 2020-2021 academic school year

Claudia De Leon, a Community Voices for Public Education (CVPE) parent of teenagers, said she was relieved to hear that her students will start the school year online.

"I think it's a good plan," she said. "Like I said, a good place to start. One of my children says they are actually afraid of getting the virus and getting sick and the other one less so, so even in the same family you can have different needs."

Jennifer Swallen, who is also an HISD parent, said she was disappointed by the district.

"For me, it's disappointing because I have a job I need to get to, and a lot of people do across the city of Houston," Swallen said, "On top of that, I have a child who really needs an in-classroom learning experience."

When students return to the classroom, there will be safety measures in place, such as health screenings, a mask requirement, frequent hand washing, and practicing social distancing.

Lathan also said the district was working to get the technology necessary to all students to allow them to continue virtual learning.

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"The district has purchased a total of 35,000 additional devices and 6,000 internet hot spots for students," Lathan said.

When schools closed in March, staff handed out wireless internet devices, known as hotspots, and 14,000 laptops to students, but there were still thousands of students without the necessary devices.

Meanwhile, attendance and grades will be taken during virtual classes, and the district will be offering curbside meals during that time as well, according to Lathan.

Andy Dewey with Houston Federation of Teachers said when Gov. Greg Abbott told ABC13 Tuesday that school districts would have flexibility to extend online learning more than three weeks, without jeopardizing school funding, it helped HISD and other school districts make the decision.

"This is best for the overall community, and those people who are left behind we will have time and opportunity to bring them up to speed," Dewey said.

In June, the district released a proposed 2020-2021 year-round academic calendar after COVID-19 cut in-person classes short.

District officials later said they would not be moving forward with the plan after asking for feedback from parents.

School officials said at the time that, with the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and the recent increase in cases, they determined the best course of action was to keep the existing 2020-21 academic school year calendar which provides a later start date and an additional 10 targeted remediation days.

"The later start date provides the district an opportunity to monitor the pattern of COVID-19 cases and make necessary adjustments as it relates to in-person, virtual learning, or a combination of the two," an HISD statement read at the time.

District officials said academic boot camps will now be offered from Aug. 18-20 and during Thanksgiving, winter and spring breaks. The camps will provide additional instructional hours for students who need them.

Some districts are reopening campuses, while others will start with virtual learning, and then phase in face-to-face instruction. Fort Bend and Alief ISD are also starting the 2020-2021 school year virtually.

You can keep up with the plans as the come in by visiting the link below.

Houston-area school districts' fall 2020 plans
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