Leander ISD superintendent weighs in on a rough first day of school

Education

LEANDER, Texas (KXAN) — The Leander Independent School District intended to start school virtually Thursday for all students, but that didn’t happen.

Leander made the decision Wednesday night to cancel school for the next two days for high school students.

“I think our high school students are perhaps the only ones who are happy at this point in time about us putting school off until Monday,” Superintendent Dr. Bruce Gearing said. Gearing is in his second year as Leander ISD’s superintendent. He joined the district after working as the Dripping Springs ISD superintendent since 2012.

The district reported it’s having an issue with a web tool that allows students to connect their district-provided laptops to the Internet. Gearing said they’d been working with a vendor all summer to make sure it could get about 18,000 computers online at once, but the vendor said Wednesday it had miscalculated and could only get 12,000 online at the same time.

District leaders said the vendor will fix the problem over the weekend so that high school students can start.

The district stated elementary and middle school students started virtual classes Thursday as scheduled. However, the district sent a note to students, saying it was having a problem with Home Access Center, which is “an online tool where they can view helpful student information to support and guide their children through the educational process.” Sixth grade students weren’t able to access their accounts, and seventh through 12th grade students and all parents couldn’t reset their passwords. It said its team was “working tirelessly to fix the problem.”

Last year there were 13,116 students enrolled in grades 9-12, according to the Texas Education Agency. The total district enrollment for the 2019-2020 school year was 41,381, according to the TEA.

The first three weeks of the 2020–21 school year (Aug. 13–Sept. 7) will be entirely online, with all students in virtual learning. Gearing said the plan is to submit a waiver for an additional four weeks of virtual learning, if needed.

“We’re not intending to be 100% virtual learning after September 8th. Our intention is to start bringing students back, but the health officials are advising us that we need to do that in a very measured way, and so we’ll be phasing students back in likely — potentially starting with 25% of our capacity, as we start bringing students back in that first two weeks to see how things go and to make sure that we can keep everybody safe inside that in-person environment,” Gearing said. “And then based on what happens that first two weeks, we’ll look at expanding our capacity after that.”

Families were able to choose between in-person and virtual learning when the school starts allowing students back. That process closed on Aug. 6 at 11:59 p.m.

Schools are working to connect with individual students who have not submitted a choice. Each school will have a process for updating selections at the grading period changes.

Gearing said the plan is to phase the highest-need students back to in-person learning first.

“Our special needs children, our youngest learners are going to be first on that priority list,” Gearing said. “We’re also going to prioritize staff children because we know that in order for them to be able to be 100% engaged with their students they need to have their own personal children taken care of.”

Gearing said the district is working closely with local health authorities to keep students and staff safe, and that closing down classrooms or schools again is on the table if positive cases rise.

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