SAN ANTONIO (KTSA News) – Some parents don’t want to send their children back to school as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, but the Texas Education Agency has directed superintendents to reopen campuses. Dr. Pedro Martinez, superintendent of the San Antonio Independent School district, says flexibility is the key.
“What TEA is saying, and this is what the community needs to know, is that schools must be open,” said Martinez. “We are not allowed to turn away students who want to come to school every day, and districts that want to do 100 percent remote learning are not going to get state funding.”
Martinez told KTSA News he’s been having virtual meetings with parents and staff to gauge their concerns about the upcoming school year, which is scheduled to begin August 10 in SAISD. He’s heard from some parents who are anxious to get their children back in the classroom and others who want to keep their youngsters at home because of COVID-19. He’s trying to assure parents and students who favor remote learning that SAISD is ready for that.
“We will have a plan for them and it will be high quality with some of our best teachers. We have devices, we have hot spots if they need those resources,” said Martinez.
The Carnegie Corporation of New York recently named Martinez one of 38 Great Immigrants who are playing essential roles in the global health crisis as COVID-19 responders. Martinez, who was born in Mexico, was recognized by the Carnegie Corporation for overseeing the transition to remote learning for about 49,000 students in SAISD, which included the distribution of 30,000 computers and 4,000 Wi-Fi hotspots to help students continue their learning when COVID-19 forced schools to close.
With those tools in place now, Martinez feels confident about a flexible plan to have some students in classrooms, while others learn from home. He’s planning to “phase in” the reopening of schools.
“We won’t bring in all the children at once, and we’ll phase it in throughout the year so that we can work with Metro Health and health professionals to make sure that we’re doing it in the safest way possible,” said Martinez.
Some teachers also are reluctant to return to their classrooms “because they have relatives who are at risk, or maybe they’re at high risk themselves, and then I have other staff who can’t wait to come back. They want to be back in their classrooms. They want to be with their children.”
SAISD has been working on health and safety protocols, which include a mask requirement for students and staff. While Gov. Greg Abbott’s order requires face coverings for Texans 10 years and older, Martinez says all students will be required to wear masks, even the youngest children who are in pre-k, which includes some 3-year-olds. Martinez says masks will be provided to students who don’t have one. His staff also is looking at day care centers and what measures they’re taking with their youngest children to prevent the spread of COVID-19. CDC guidelines recommend that people 2 years and older wear face coverings in public settings and when they’re around people outside of their households.
“We’re going to implement many safety guidelines, including wearing masks, social distancing, and giving children regular breaks so that they can wash their hands,” said Martinez.
There’s been no decision on whether to suspend the high school football season, but athletic training programs have been suspended for the month of July. At the end of this month, they’ll decide whether to resume training in August. He and other superintendents in Texas are waiting for a decision from the University Interscholastic League (UIL) on what to do about extracurricular activities, including high school sports.