Education

HISD Looking To Expand Virtual Learning Ahead Of Upcoming School Year

On Tuesday’s Houston Matters, HISD superintendent Millard House II also said he was confident that the district’s proposed mask mandate would be passed.

HISD Superintendent Millard House II announced last week that the district would weigh a mask mandate during this week’s Board of Education meeting. If passed, the measure would likely make HISD the first school district in Texas at odds with an executive order from Gov. Greg Abbott banning such mandates.

The Houston Independent School District is looking to expand virtual learning ahead of the upcoming school year, Superintendent Millard House II said on Tuesday.

On Tuesday’s Houston Matters, House said the district's usual 8,000 slots were already filled, but it was working on adding 1,500 to 2,000 more slots.

But he added that the district's main focus would be bringing students back into schools as safely as possible.

“The best place for a child to be is in front of a highly qualified teacher,” he said.

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The district partners with Texas Connections Academy Houston, an approved HISD campus charter, to offer free public virtual school for grades 3-12, according to the academy’s website.

House also touched on the district’s proposed mask mandate, which he announced last week. The proposal is at odds with an executive order from Gov. Greg Abbott that banned schools from implementing such mandates.

House said hoped the mandate would need to be implemented for very long, and that he was confident it would pass at Thursday's Board of Education meeting.

“This is not about defying the governor, this is about really doing what’s best in terms of the public safety,” House said. “I had to step forward and do what was best, and I’m strongly convinced that my board will acquiesce and move forward to get this done.”

HISD superintendent Millard House II on Tuesday’s Houston Matters.

House added that within 48 hours of the announcement, the school district suffered a death due to COVID-19.

House also said that the district was not looking to implement a vaccine mandate, but was considering a vaccination incentive program. He pointed to the city’s Super Saturday vaccination events, where House said students and staff could easily get vaccinated.

The superintendent acknowledged that the pandemic has caused “residual issues” for the district, such as learning loss and a sharp decrease in student enrollment — dropping from about 210,000 to 196,000 students throughout the district. The next three years will be focused on fixing these issues, he said.

“Many of our kids have missed out on educational opportunities that have put them behind,” House said. “I’m extremely excited about the next 60 days…to ensure that we’re setting the stage for the years ahead to be extremely successful.”

Hany Khalil, vice president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, joined Tuesday’s Town Square to discuss the upcoming school year. Khalil said the union fully supported House’s mask proposal.

“School leaders have recognized that their first and foremost duty is to keep children safe,” he said. “As employers, it’s to keep employees safe in their school districts as well.”

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