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Coronavirus forces school districts to prepare distance learning plans

Many local school districts are planning to restart classes in one or two weeks. What those classes will look like is still up in the air.

TEMPLE, Texas — Temple Independent School District Superintendent Bobby Ott plans to have students come back to regularly scheduled classes on March 23. Ott is also planning to educate students without bringing them back to class. And yes, it's just as complicated as it sounds.

"We are actively monitoring the situation," Ott said. "We are talking about how do you provide remote learning? What does it look like for students that do not have connectivity devices? What does that look like for employees?"

Many students at TISD have Chromebooks and use an online learning platform, which makes them well-positioned for online courses. Ott said that's not nearly the whole picture, however. 

They have to find a solution for younger students, students with no internet access, students with English as a second language and students with special needs. 

If the school is forced to implement a distance learning program, some student's parents may need to come to school once a week to get a learning packet. Some teachers may need to travel to accommodate students with special needs. Ott said all of this is about safety. 

"We would have a schedule and rotate that," Ott said, regarding special needs students. "If your goal is to assess the situation with the COVID virus, bringing part of your students back and not all of them really defeats the purpose. If you are bringing people back that have special needs you could be bringing back your most vulnerable population."

Killeen ISD and Waco ISD confirmed to 6 News that they are also working on the possibility of a distance education program. 

At the same time, Texas Governor Greg Abbott is working to provide more flexibility to school districts by waiving the Staar test requirements for the 2019-2020 school year, according to a March 16 press release from the governor's office.

"Your health and safety are top priorities, and the state of Texas will give school districts flexibility to protect and ensure the health of students, faculty, and their families," Abbott said. "We will empower schools to make the best decisions to protect their communities from COVID-19."   

Ott said it was a good call, even though it will have ramifications later. 

"Right now it's a good idea. I support Governor Abbott's decision," Ott said. 

Ott also said that waiving the Staar tests could have a domino effect for the following year. It would not be clear if students would need to make up those assessments and it would not be possible to show year-to-year growth or improvements in the following year. 

Ott said Temple ISD will monitor the number of coronavirus cases in the county and how those cases are spreading in the next few days before deciding what classes will look like on March 23. 

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