Education News

‘Remain Flexible’: HISD Faces New Challenges Amid Return To In-Person Instruction

On the first day of face-to-face instruction, there were few hiccups, as schools implemented new safety protocols, the HISD interim superintendent said.

HISD interim Superintendent Dr. Grenita Lathan.

Houston Independent School District Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan asked Houston families and teachers to "remain flexible" Monday, as the state's largest school district reopened classrooms to more than 80,000 children.

"It has been seven months since we moved to all virtual instruction due to the spread of COVID-19," Lathan said at a press conference at Highland Heights Elementary in Acres Homes.

"Since then, we've all been pushed out of our comfort zones. We've been forced to adjust, adapt and respond in the best interests of our children. In many ways, this has been the most challenging period for our school district," she said.

One ongoing challenge is to reconnect with some 13,000 students who've lost touch with their public school since the pandemic and have not reenrolled. Lathan said district administrators are working to locate those children, who may have become homeless or experienced other challenges worsened by the pandemic.

MORE | Houston Public Schools Reopen Classrooms Amid Teacher, Family Anxieties

Lower enrollment — currently at about 196,000 students for HISD — could potentially impact the district's financial outlook later on, since Texas traditionally funds public schools based on attendance.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner urged parents and guardians to reenroll their kids regardless of where they are.

"The worst thing we can do is not have our children a part of our educational system," Turner said. "We're looking for you."

But HISD has been able to overcome a different challenge, Lathan said. That's the digital divide, in part thanks to a $1 million grant from the Moody Foundation for traditionally underserved schools. HISD has distributed 110,000 devices and more than 36,000 internet hotspots to families who need them, according to Lathan.

As face-to-face instruction gets underway, HISD is working to expand testing for COVID-19 to students and families, not just educators and school staff, Lathan said.

She added that teachers who have health and safety concerns should address them with their campus administrators.

Halfway through the first day of face-to-face instruction, there had been few hiccups, as schools implemented new safety protocols, including social distancing, mask wearing, temperature checks and limited capacity on buses.

Just five out of 280 HISD schools don’t have a dedicated nurse on campus. Someone from the district’s central office is assigned to each while they work on filling those positions, Lathan said.

HISD parent Catherine Dauterive said she’s feeling cautiously optimistic after her daughter’s first day of kindergarten in person.

Dauterive said she felt the dropoff and pickup at Travis Elementary were very safe and orderly. And when her daughter squinted her eyes as she walked inside, Dauterive knew she was smiling underneath her mask.

“This is our first year in HISD,” Dauterive said. “And I just didn’t know whether or not it would be possible to pull off this spacing like they did. And for the kids to still feel like they had, you know, that she had a great kindergarten experience. I didn’t know that it could happen.”

Allison Baring, who has two children in HISD, said her kindergartener and third grader thought the best part was just being the classroom.

After the first day of in-person learning, Baring said she’s feeling good about her decision to send her two kids back to campus.

“Everybody was wearing masks and being super safe and telling kids where to go and taking temperatures,” she said. “It was magical and crazy and safe and very different.”

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Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for Houston Public Media, including K-12 and higher education. Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and contributed to South Florida’s NPR affiliate. Her work has also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Reuters and Clarín in Argentina. Laura has won awards for...

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