By Bill Spinks
In front of an audience eager to hear what the Waxahachie Independent School District’s COVID-19 policy for reopening next month will be, the WISD board of trustees learned during Monday night’s regular monthly meeting that the final details are still pending — but that a decision will have to be finalized very soon.
Superintendent Dr. Bonny Cain said the state of Texas is sending out conflicting guidance on protocols, and therefore the district’s ability to plan for positive cases among students is being impeded.
Cain gave an example: On Thursday of last week, she said, the Texas Education Agency commissioner said if a child is found to have COVID-19, that child can be taken out of the classroom, parents notified and the classroom disinfected. However, Cain said on Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that if any student tests positive for COVID-19, the entire school will close down for five days to be sanitized.
"With 2,400 kids in Waxahachie High School, 200 staff and 50 people in and out like custodians and food service people, what are the odds of there not being one case at Waxahachie High?" Cain asked. "The governor is actually the commissioner’s boss. Those are the kinds of things that are keeping us from getting our plan completely out."
Cain said the TEA is considering a "soft start" where the first two or three weeks of classes are conducted virtually, followed by opening campuses for face-to-face learning. However, Cain also noted the disruption that this would cause for teachers and said the district needs to get its policies set by the last week of July at the latest.
"We would love to have all of our guidelines out, but we are trying to be so very, very careful to make certain there aren’t any mistakes or it’s not something we can’t support, or if they change it at the last minute," Cain said. "We have to get it out two weeks before the first day of school for the kids, because parents have two weeks to decide if they want to do distance learning or face-to-face learning."
The district will be receiving personal protective equipment from the state, Cain said: masks, gloves, face shields, thermometers and hand sanitizer.
The board also heard updates on the 2020-2021 student handbook and code of conduct, which were approved in the consent agenda. The only major change in the handbook for this year, executive director of secondary learning Dr. David Averett said, is that the district must add a Title IX coordinator for every campus.
The district’s crisis management plan was updated this spring and was also presented to the board for approval in the consent agenda. Waxahachie Police Lt. Josh Oliver, the chief school resource officer for WISD, said the plan is a "living document" and will be updated as new campuses are added and new industries come to town.
All trustees were present with the exception of board vice president Clay Schoolfield, who was absent.
• Other consent agenda items included an agreement with Arlington ISD to serve students with auditory impairments; an adjunct faculty agreement with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, 4H Ellis County; memorandums of understanding between both the University of Texas at Tyler and Navarro College with Waxahachie Global High School; naming executive director of elementary learning Lisa Mott to facilitate integrating state goals required under HB3 into the District improvement Plan; meal price changes and meal charge policy for the new school year; and a resolution declaring hazardous areas within school zones. The meal charge policy was pulled from the consent agenda and considered separately, and passed 5-1, with trustee Kim Kriegel voting no.
• Three staff members were recognized by the board: Lt. Oliver on his recent promotion from sergeant and his service to the district; Dr. Phillip Morgan, who completed his doctorate at Lamar University in June; and Dr. Ryan Cavazos, who completed his doctorate at Abilene Christian University in June.
• The board held a workshop session to consider a number of items. Trustees discussed the board’s standard operating procedures; considered an earlier graduation date for 2021; considered district testing scores; reviewed an employee survey response/plan; considered clarification of process of discipline of an employee; studied a request for district benchmarks and district common assessments; and considered a community-based accountability system.
• District project manager Mikel Craig told trustees that the new Max H. Simpson Elementary School is nearing completion and should be ready for a certificate of occupancy by the end of this week. The grand opening ceremonies for both Simpson and the new Ag Science facility at WHS are scheduled for Aug. 15.
• Trustees approved Tradition Energy as a broker to do a reverse auction for providing electricity for WISD. Assistant superintendent Ryan Kahlden said Tradition’s proposal, one of three that the district received in its solicitation, did not have a mark-up for generation of energy.
• After a discussion, the superintendent evaluation document was approved by the board.