HPISD Heads Back to School With Virtual Instruction

Highland Park ISD has been preparing this summer for the possibilities of returning to class with virtual learning, in-classroom instruction, or a hybrid of both.

On July 16, what the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year would look like became clearer, though much uncertainty remains.

Highland Park ISD sent a newsletter to families Wednesday regarding new guidance to schools from Attorney General Ken Paxton sent Tuesday.

“We sincerely appreciate the leadership of our state elected officials, including Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, as well as the Texas Education Agency, our state lawmakers and the Dallas County Health and Human Services department in trying to navigate through this enormously challenging and rapidly changing pandemic. While their orders have, at times, contradicted each other, we recognize and respect that each entity is truly trying to operate in the public’s best interest,” the newsletter read.

The letter noted the district will continue to take a ‘thoughtful, measured approach’ to the beginning of the school year. 

“As our planning committee determined at its first meeting, the health and safety of our students, staff, families and our community is our top priority. Yesterday’s letter does not change that,” it read. “While guidance from various entities has changed over the course of the last three weeks and may, in fact, change again, it is our responsibility as a school district to be completely ready, whenever in-person instruction begins, to provide a quality education in an environment designed to protect our students and staff from the spread of the virus…Without question, the continuing changes in direction have made planning for this school year very difficult. As a planning committee and staff for HPISD, we will consult with relevant public health authorities and continue to evaluate our options, taking into consideration the myriad of additional issues we are facing with the start of school this particular year.”

Dallas County Health and Human Services banned on-campus, face-to-face instruction at public and private schools until after Sept. 7. School-sponsored activities, including sports, can’t continue until on-campus learning does.

“We were looking forward to greeting our students at our schools on Aug. 20,” Highland Park ISD board president Jim Hitzelberger said. “I’m sure that our students, parents, and HPISD staff are disappointed, but we will comply with all safety requirements imposed by local and state authority.”

The Texas Education Agency announced July 17 that school systems could limit on-campus instruction for the first four weeks. After that, a school system can limit on-campus instruction an additional four weeks, if needed, with a board-approved waiver request to TEA.

School systems in Dallas County also must develop a plan for resuming on-campus instruction and extracurricular activities, submit it to the local health authority, and make it available to parents and the public at least two weeks before re-opening for on-campus instruction.

“I’m sure that our students, parents, and HPISD staff are disappointed, but we will comply with all safety requirements imposed by local and state authority.”

Jim Hitzelberger, Highland Park ISD board president
Dr. Philip Huang, Dallas County health and human services
director, says the situation for schools will remain fluid
as COVID-19 cases rise or fall. Classes resume Aug. 20
in Highland Park ISD, but instruction will be online only,
until at least Sept. 8, officials announced in July. (Press conference snapshot: Rachel Snyder)

“(Superintendent) Dr. (Tom) Trigg and his staff have been working around the clock this summer and will be prepared for remote learning and for when our students return to our facilities,” Hitzelberger said.

Trigg said the district has prepared to offer more robust remote instruction than was possible in this spring.

“This remote instruction will include full-day schedules with daily synchronous interactions with teachers,” Trigg said. “We recognize and respect that our parents, staff, and students want nothing more than for school to return as normal. Unfortunately, we are living in a time that requires us all to be flexible in order to keep our community healthy and safe.”

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and Dr. Philip Huang, Dallas County health and human services director, said the decision to prohibit on-campus instruction came after consultation with educators in the county.

“It is a decision that wasn’t an easy one, but one that I and a vast majority of people we have spoken to today (July 16) agree with,” Jenkins said in a press conference.

The county also created a committee to help look at data and other issues surrounding returning to school, including, Jenkins said, “an eminent child psychologist.”

“We recognize that this is more than keeping teachers and students physically safe,” he said. “COVID is taking an emotional and psychological toll on your kids. There’s a challenge with nutrition, safety; there are special populations with special needs, and other populations that must be thought about, and I pledge to you that we will spend hours a day working to make sure all those populations have the best outcome that they can have.”

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