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CASSANDRA JENKINS — Possibilities, unanswered questions linger as start of school nears

The start of school is quickly approaching and even as district administrations across the Golden Triangle start to finalize plans, many parents, students and even teachers are still on the fence on just how safe it is to return to school next month.

The most recent show of concern came at Nederland ISD’s monthly board meeting Monday night.

School Board President Micah Mosley read 11 letters from the community calling for clarification and questioning the safety of starting school too early.

Inquiries included: “Are we going to forgo events that invite lots of people into our classrooms such as meet the teacher, kindergarten roundup, class parties, etc.?”

“While parents are given the choice to send students back, teachers have not been given that decision. If at any point we feel unsafe returning to the classroom, what options do we have?”

Many questions were answered by the district’s explanation of the Re-Entry Plan that followed the public comments.

However, one question occurred several times: Why are we not taking advantage of the Texas Education Agency’s fully funded option to start the first four weeks of school virtually?

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Stuart Kieschnick addressed the question briefly.

“We’ve talked about that,” he said. “That is a possibility. Everyday that goes by, right now with the situation is, that possibility increases a little bit. That decision needs to be made pretty quick.

“We know others are doing it. We know it’s been mostly in the larger school districts. We are studying that decision very hard. That may happen. As of today, the plan is to start school in person.”

Beaumont Independent School District is the only school in the area that has announced the decision to start school virtually.

The neighboring district includes more than 18,000 students. Nederland ISD hosts approximately 5,400 students.

Kieschnick reported that as of Monday, 20-23 percent of parents who answered an electronic survey have decided to start school online. Seventy percent of respondents are comfortable with in-person instruction.

One comment of the school’s live feed noted that out of roughly 5,500 less than half completed the survey, approximately 2,200.

Plans are still changing. Parents and teachers are still uncertain of what the turn of the month brings. Several possibilities still linger although the start of school draws closer.

Even as an assistant superintendent, Kieschnick recognizes change may occur.

“Knowing that by the time Aug. 17 gets here it could be different, but we have to have a plan knowing full well it could be different,” he said. “It is going to change. It’s going to evolve throughout the year. There will even be changes next spring because COVID is not going away. We are going to deal with it the best we possibly can at NISD and keep our students and staff safe.”

Cassandra Jenkins is a news reporter for Port Arthur Newsmedia. She can be reached at cassie.jenkins@panews.com.