Blanco ISD sees more than a dozen students withdraw after district discontinues virtual learning option

Hill Country

Superintendent says most families were already in-person & most virtual learners had failing grades

BLANCO, Texas (KXAN) — Starting this week, students in the Blanco Independent School District no longer had the option to learn from home.

In an email to the district on Oct. 12, Superintendent Clay Rosenbaum announced all students would have to start going back to campus Oct. 19. He said several factors played into the district’s decision, including the fact that 90% of students were already in-person before the announcement.

Rosenbaum said they’ve also only had one COVID-19 case in the first nine weeks of school, with no contact among staff or students. He sees that as a sign of effective safety protocols.

Erika Sykes, who has two elementary students, agreed.

Erika Sykes says even with 10 years of experience in the field of education, she believed she wasn’t able to do enough for them learning at home. (Photo: Erika Sykes)

“They did give everyone the first nine weeks to kind of see how the school year progressed. We have not had to go home, we have not had, you know, to quarantine for two weeks,” Sykes said.

Rosenbaum also said more than 50% of remote learners were failing.

“Many of our remote learners were no longer engaged in the learning process, and their attendance and participation was declining,” he wrote in an email to KXAN News. “We concluded that in order to provide the most successful educational opportunity for our students, a return to face-to-face instruction was warranted.”

But for some parents like Jessica Elbel and Rachelle Willgren, that wasn’t entirely the case.

“My reaction would be panic,” said Elbel, who has two elementary students.

She said although one of them was struggling with grades, the other was doing well. Her husband had just decided to stay home and help with virtual learning when they saw the superintendent’s message.

“Going back was never an option for us,” said Elbel, whose father-in-law is in remission from lung cancer.

“I was very angry and disappointed,” said Willgren, who also has two elementary students who were learning virtually.

Both pulled their kids out of Blanco ISD on Friday and said because the announcement came on a school holiday, they had just four workdays to figure out alternative plans.

“I had to take four days off of work. I called around to other school districts; I looked online. I looked at curriculum,” Willgren explained.

Rosenbaum said a total of 14 students have withdrawn from the district since the announcement. He said that is just over 1% of the total student body.

Both Elbel and Willgren said they respect other families’ decisions to send their kids back and said those families—and the school district—should respect their choice, too.

“I feel like being told that I have to send my children back or get out of the district, basically—that’s taking away part of my choice, and I don’t appreciate feeling like my choices are being taken away,” Elbel said.

Both mothers said they would consider reenrolling their kids once a vaccine is released, but until then, they are not willing to take the risk of COVID-19.

“Our BISD team was very thoughtful and deliberative in making this difficult decision.  It was based on the circumstances in our district that I have mentioned already and made for the educational well-being of our students.  Our students deserve the best that we can give them and returning in person provides the platform for us to do that. For those that have withdrawn, I want them to know that we completely understand that this pandemic affects families in different ways.  When they feel comfortable sending their kids back to school, we will welcome them with open arms.  We love all of our kids and want nothing but the best for all of them.”

Clay Rosenbaum, Blanco ISD superintendent

Rosenbaum noted the district has met with families experiencing serious health conditions and “a small number have been granted the remote learning option by a committee at each campus.”

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