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As Fort Bend ISD Prepares For Online Learning, Superintendent Concerned About Equity

“This is not just a one or two month issue. This is something that we’re going to be dealing with for the foreseeable future in making sure our students do not have gaps in their learning.”

Fort Bend educators and administrators are transitioning to online learning as more and more districts face the reality that schools in Greater Houston will not reopen until mid-April, if at all, this academic year.

In a wide-ranging interview with Houston Public Media, Fort Bend ISD’s Superintendent Charles Dupre said he’s careful to distinguish digital educational activities with what he calls “true online learning.” In the short term, he said the district is sharing ways parents can keep their kids engaged at home with digital tools.


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For the longer term, Dupre said the district’s design team — which includes administrators, principals and teachers — is working to integrate its current online platform with a video conference tool, so that kids can engage with teachers in real time. He added that the district is also planning to have a digital checkout in the coming weeks for students to pick up hardware, like laptops, and potentially hotspots for Internet access.

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However, Dupre expressed concern that no matter how good an online platform the district launches, it will not be “equitable” for all students.

Below are highlights from the conversation, which has been edited for clarity and length:

How quickly is Fort Bend ISD moving to online learning and what could that look like?

The true online learning we’re talking about is about two weeks out. We’re planning right now to launch our online learning platform on Monday, the 30th of March. In Fort Bend, we’ve been doing what we call blended learning, and that’s integrating technology into the learning environment in a big way … What we’re working to do is partner with something like Zoom or Microsoft Teams that will allow direct teacher engagement in real time.

What are your plans for extra-young kids, you know, kindergartners, first graders, and then also more vulnerable students like special education students or English language learners? Some people may say online learning may not be possible for some student populations.

Well, I’m going to be honest, that is what is taking the time, to be truthful. Because, you know, it’s easy to engage a high school student or many middle school students, but the younger the child gets, the more intentional you have to be about what that looks like and the level of parent engagement that’s required.

You know, we can’t forget that many of our parents are working from home, so they’re not available just to do school all day, every day with their children. Of course, we also know that we will continue to serve the needs of our special education students.

What’s the real likelihood of class going back into session at all this semester?

You know, truly everything I’m hearing says that we’re going to be doubling the number of diagnosed cases of COVID-19 for the foreseeable future. So it’s impossible to predict what’s going to happen in four weeks, six weeks or eight weeks. But we’ve got a design team that is working hard to put together various scenarios. So if we find out on April 10th, we can come back to school on April 13th, what are we going to do then? If we find out in mid-to-late April, we can come back, what are we going to do? Or if we get all the way into May, what are we going do? But we really do not know today what the next three to four months will look like.

Fort Bend ISD
Charles E. Dupre, Fort Bend ISD superintendent.

Let’s say the reality comes that the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise and it’s not in the public health to reopen school before the end of the academic year. What happens then? How does that impact students’ credits, graduation?

If for whatever reason we cannot get kids back in school this year, we’re basically going to have to be working to close the gaps in their learning as we begin school next year. So we might go ahead — and I’m not committing to this — but one scenario that could play out is you might have second-graders go ahead and move to third grade. But you might have to realign all of our curriculum, and move some of those second grade knowledge and skills that they’re required to learn into third grade, to make sure that they’re learned, so we close in and avoid any gaps.

As superintendent, that is honestly my greatest concern right now, is no matter how strong of an online learning system we try to provide, it will not be equitable because we have many parents in our community who are capable, willing, able to provide a very robust learning experience for their child at home with the resources we provide.

We have many other children who do not have parents who are capable of assisting them in that way. And so we’re going to have some gaps develop across our district in terms of equity to access to education. So this is not just a one-or-two month issue. This is something that we’re going to be dealing with for the foreseeable future in making sure our students do not have gaps in their learning.

You do mention that online learning won’t be equitable. And a piece of that is the technology. What are your plans to fill in the gaps for families who don’t have the hardware? You know, they don’t have the laptop or iPad at home or they don’t have the internet at home to access that online learning?

That is an important part of the planning that our design team is working with our technology department on. We do have many, many devices, thousands of devices in the district, including some hot spots, if you will, that can be checked out. We don’t believe we have enough to meet the needs of every student, so we are working with other partners, some of the firms out there — Comcast being one of them, AT&T is reaching out to us — who are providing free internet services with hot spots into homes and those kinds of things.

That’s a piece of the planning that we’re doing this week and next, because at some point, likely next week or the following week, we will be doing a device checkout for students and their parents to be able to have devices at home. Of course, we’re also going to have always augment the online learning with paper and pencil packets for students who just do not or cannot engage with technology.

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