The new school year is on its way, and students across Texas are preparing for a semester like they have never seen before.
New guidelines from the Texas Education Agency allow school districts up to eight weeks of online instruction due to concerns about COVID-19.
For students who do not have access to the internet, or students experiencing homelessness, it is specified that they are qualified for in-person instruction.
“Our framework ensures that there will be on-campus instruction available for all students who need it in the state of Texas,” said TEA Commissioner Mike Morath in announcing the new guidelines.
We spoke with the Dallas Independent School District’s news and information coordinator, who broke down how the district plans to reach families in need of devices for remote learning.
“We have deployed approximately 23,000 mobile hot spots and cellular-enabled devices to date, therefore leaving approximately 13,600 families still in need of Internet services,” said Nina Lakhiani.
According to Lakhani, Dallas ISD prepares their numbers for families in need of devices by reaching out through school counselors.
“Back in March, we had school counselors reaching out to our homeless families to see if they needed technology,” said Lakhiani. “Our homeless outreach department called all of our families that had a hotel address as their main contact info to see if they needed technology.”
Lakhiani said that there are many families that struggle to find permanent housing for different reasons and that is why some have listed their addresses as a hotel address.
“Many migrant and transitional workers stay at motels since they are moving from city to city in order to work and therefore have a hotel as an address,” said Lakhiani. “We also have many families that cannot get into an apartment due to felony convictions, bad credit, etc. and so they end up living at a long term stay hotel.”
She disclosed that many students live in shelters due to economic hardships.
“They are in a temporary living arrangement due to any of the following: loss of housing, economic hardship, domestic violence, unhealthy living conditions, or the incarceration of a legal guardian,” said Lakhiani.
She explained that other scenarios for these students include living in a car, living with a friend or relative, or living in abandoned buildings.
In 2001, Congress passed the McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which protects students experiencing homelessness from being excluded from school.
“Homelessness alone is not sufficient reason to separate students from the mainstream school environment,” according to the act.
Under the act, students are able to find support through resources at school to ensure their ability to receive a public education. The law also allots a grant to all school districts that support the programs and resources for students that qualify.
For Fort Bend ISD, the assistant director of media relations explained that they are attempting to reach families that have not engaged in online learning.
“During the spring, district and campus staff made personal phone calls to reach out to families who had not engaged in online learning,” said Amanda Bubela. “And also made home visits in an effort to support families. We anticipate more of this in the fall if necessary.”
Additionally, Bubela said, that they are setting up learning centers that prioritize four qualifications: staff, local first responders, those who need internet access, and those who are in need of adult supervision.
“Additionally, we are planning on opening “Learning Centers” at select schools that will provide a safe environment and connectivity for students to participate in online learning,” said Bubela. “So they will still participate in teacher-led online instruction from their provided space.”
At these learning centers, students will have adult supervision by a paraprofessional or other non-FBISD teaching staff.
In an effort to reach all students, Bubela explained that FBISD has put together reports before and after the online-enrollment applications to determine the number of students who have not enrolled.