Texas Education Agency not requiring districts to provide online instruction; community responds

Published 12:30 am Saturday, July 18, 2020

The Port Neches-Groves Independent School District recently released 2020-21 upcoming school year plans, and one item stands out against the rest.

PNGISD is not offering remote instruction.

Assistant Superintendent Julie Gauthier said at this week’s virtual board meeting that the district wants to focus on in-person instruction.

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“It is virtually impossible to expect our teachers to prepare for kids in the classroom, kids at home and try to deliver in both places for kids going back and forth,” she said. “One thing to know about our district is we’ve always had plans in place for kids and staff with health concerns. We’ve always had ways to meet their needs, and that’s not any different now that COVID is here.”

After hearing the news Tuesday morning, many members of the community are asking the same question: Is the Texas Education Agency requiring districts to provide remote learning?

The short answer is no.

The agency’s SY 20-21 Public Health Planning Guidance given on July 7 indicates school systems must only provide daily “on-campus” instruction.

The statement reads: “School systems must provide daily on-campus attendance for students otherwise entitled to attend school who follow this document’s required public health procedures …

“Any parent may request that their student be offered virtual instruction from any school system that offers such instruction… If a parent requests virtual instruction and the school does not offer it, the parent may enroll in another school that does offer it for transfer students.”

The Port Neches and Groves communities have mixed emotions.

Hope Gallier, a mom of three, is against the decision.

“I have one child with a medical condition and two children who are healthy,” she said. “I am forced to homeschool all three of them because the homebound instruction option would only apply to one of my children.

“If two-thirds is forced to do face-to-face schooling, then I might as well send my child with health concerns as well. It makes no logical sense to force parents into a corner like this.”

A father of two PNG students, Ty Cropper said he is 100 percent good with the decision.

“They have put engineering controls, protocols and plans in place to return to school safely,” he said. “A lot of thought and planning has gone into this decision. If it doesn’t happen to work the way they planned, then I am certain they will have alternate plans to move forward.

“The administration has done an excellent job thus far, and I’m sure they will continue to do all they can to ensure the safety of our children. If you don’t like that decision, then there are options. Those options just aren’t sponsored by PNG.”

As a mom and teacher at PNG, Heather Jackson sees both sides of the coin.

“I’m in the exact same position as a lot of (the community) regarding my own child,” she said. “As a parent, I have totally different thoughts and concerns. Like a lot of people, I have a sickly child with asthma who I, as of now, have no idea what to do with.”

Speaking as a teacher, Jackson said she can see where the district is coming from.

“Trying to teach kids online sucks,” she said. “Trying to teach kids how we’re going to have to teach them at school with sanitizing, masks, etc., is going to suck. Trying to do both at one time is going to suck times two.

“If you are in a district where online and at-school learning is available, please be aware that your child’s teacher is doing at least twice the job with no more time or money than before. Be thankful.”

Aaron Pellerin, a Port Neches resident, said he believes everyone should at least be given the option to choose.

“I think the option should be there as everyone’s life situations are different,” he said. “I will guarantee that no other families in PNGISD have the same exact circumstances as mine. Maybe similar, but not the same, so the option should be there for those who need it during this time.”

TEA announced Wednesday that school districts choosing to stick with virtual classes this fall, due to a local health authority mandated shutdown, will not lose state funding after the initial three weeks.

PNGISD officials said the remarks do not change any plans.

To see a list of mentioned TEA documents, visit https://bit.ly/3jbMLdi.