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'You plan for x amount of options and land on one" | Temple ISD discusses reopening plans

Superintendent Bobby Ott spoke to 6 News about Temple ISD's plan to start school next fall and the tough situation school districts are in.

TEMPLE, Texas — It may be a principle of quantum physics that an electron can't be in two places at once, but it traditionally hasn't been a principle of school year planning. At least not until now. 

According to Temple Superintendent Bobby Ott, parents will be able to have their kids attend school in class or online and, per TEA rules, parents don't have to make that choice until 14 days before classes begin. 

That's not enough time to plan, however, so they have to be prepared to do both several thousand students. Temple ISD has around 8800 students in total.   

The application for families to choose their Fall option will open Wednesday, August 5 at 8 a.m. and close on Friday, August 7 at 5 p.m. Parents will receive the application through a program called Skyward. 

In order for Temple ISD to make it possible for all students to come back to class, they will need TISD teachers to also be in class. Ott said under current state rules they have no way to avoid this. 

"School districts do not have a choice of saying, 'We are not going to have any on-campus learning,'" Ott said. "The Texas Education Agency has said every school district is required to have on-campus learning." 

Ott said this meant no campus could decide to go online only. It also meant there was no way a school district could create a hybrid system where the district would decide some classes would be in person and others would not. 

In order to offer both options to every student, Temple ISD will have teachers teach their regular class and administer an online version of the class as well. That's going to be more work, of course, but Ott said teachers would be aided by additional staff to make it possible. 

"Really the hard part is, how do we give the teacher time to make contact and keep up with the remote learner?" Ott said. "We are looking at other staff members on campus pulling some of that duty. It could be assistant principles, instructional aids and some of our elective teachers."

Ott said the structure would be customized for each campus when they find out how many in-class and online students they have at each location. 

He said the district is still looking at additional safety measures in the next few weeks and will give teachers the final say on mask-wearing, even if Governor Greg Abbott changes mask restrictions at a later date.  

"We are giving teachers the option to require masks in their classroom if they choose," Ott said. 

Students who use the online option will have a different experience compared to the beginning of the year. Ott said students will need to check in with their teacher every day to fulfill local and state requirements. Online students will be expected to work in the same daily structure as in-class students. Online students would not, for example, be able to finish all assignments in two or three days over a week. 

Ott said remote learners will still have the option to participate in UIL extracurricular activities. 

The school district is also taking steps to make sure students still have an online option even if they do not have an internet connection at home. The school district has worked to install WiFi in five housing complexes in Temple to help out low-income students. They will also provide students a hotspot in certain situations. 

Unfortunately, teachers will not typically have the option to teach only online at this time, due to the requirement that students have the option to be in class, which comes from the TEA. Ott said the school district may be able to make changes at the campus level to accommodate at-risk staff.

"TEA guidance has made it very difficult to accommodate staff members that are in at-risk situations or populations," Ott said. "First of all, those who have health concerns will contact our human resources department directly, they'll sit through an interview process and ask questions. We will work on trying to build an accommodation schedule."   

Ott said changes could possibly be made to make sure at-risk teachers have very small in-person classes, but under the current TEA requirements, they would still need to come to campus. 

Finally, Ott said buses would not typically be able to space kids out because that would require the need to increase their fleet by a third of what it is. Ott said students would most likely be required to wear masks on buses and would also have assigned seating. Ott said TISD will continue to assess options for bus routes.   

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