The Lufkin ISD Board of Trustees discussed recommendations to adopt an intersessional or additional days calendar for the 2020-21 school year at its special meeting Tuesday afternoon via Zoom.
The two calendars were presented by education commissioner Mike Morath to address the potential resurgence of COVID-19, the coronavirus, and instructional gaps caused by school closures during the pandemic.
Superintendent Lynn Torres told the board that two vocabulary words have been going around the state that caught educators and superintendents by surprise last Thursday — intersessional calendar and additional days school year.
“The commissioner is not mandating at this time but having us at least consider — to address the instructional gap — that we potentially look at a new way of doing our calendar which provides frequent breaks during the school year allowing for certain students to come in for intervention and allowing for us to have periods of time when we can close if we have another outbreak of COVID-19,” Torres said.
The intersessional calendar has two weeks at Thanksgiving, four weeks at Christmas and three weeks at spring break going until the end of June. The weeks could be interchangeable as needed per an outbreak.
Morath also told them any closures for the pandemic next year would likely have to be made up. Torres said the administration is wrestling with what they’ve been told. She said most schools are asking if they could put any made up days at the end of the year.
While administration doesn’t quite know what their recommendation would be, they definitely know they want to continue to start school on Aug. 13, not Aug. 1 like the commissioner recommended, Torres said.
The additional days school year allows schools to close regular instruction after 180 days and add an additional 30 more days, ideally in the summer, for half-day ADA. Torres said this was touted as a way to recoup costs and to get teachers closer to six figures because they could work more and receive more money.
“We all recognize that kids can’t have been at home for nine weeks without instructional gaps,” Torres said. “That’s going to be made worse probably because of the summer when we’re not going to be able to meet in person at school.”
Torres said she thought these suggestions might be a way to ease schools into year-round school, an idea that Morath has pushed in the past. Other board members echoed that sentiment and expressed concern at challenging the traditional calendar.
“There’s a newer burden on working parents with how they manage with closed facilities,” Hall Henderson said. “We have this traditional calendar that everybody’s accustomed to, and switching it that quick, I don’t know that people are going to have an adjustment.”
Henderson said he thinks the best course of action would be to figure out how to be the most traditional as possible with the calendar to put the least burden on working parents as possible.
Board president Scott Skelton said he had doubts as to whether the commissioner would even be able to continue with his agenda because there has been significant push back from the tourism industry. He even received a call from a tourism industry lobbyist asking what the district’s thoughts were.
“I think the most important thing is to get kids back into school, back into a way that they’ll be safe and parents can feel like they can trust us,” Torres said. “We’re going to worry about the calendar later.”
Barbara Lazarine, assistant superintendent of education services and accountability, said administrators and educators are hard at work preparing to address instructional gaps and plans are moving forward to create a built-in review at the start of the school year of material missed during the pandemic.
Torres also said contractors are touring the middle school facility, and bids are due for that project by May 21.
The board also approved three waivers to be sent to the state. One waiver addressed missed school days, one waiver waived the need for districts to count the instructional materials on hand before ordering new materials, and one waiver was an attestation stating the district was committed to providing instruction and had been providing instruction during the school closures.
Torres also commended the Student Nutrition Department. As of May 8, it served 96,592 meals to students. She said after May 22, the plan is to go to a two-day per week meal distribution through the month of June.
The next meeting of the board will be at 11:30 a.m. May 29.