DISD school closings will be decided week to week with COVID-19’s new normal

UPDATE: Devine ISD will remain closed through Monday, March 30. Please see our updated story for more information.

Even for “Small town Texas” lives are at stake while Covid-19 ushers in a “new bizarre normal”.

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Social distancing, self-quarantine, cancelled celebrations, no sporting events and empty grocery shelves with toilet paper issues have invaded our lives. On Monday, March 16, at 7pm, in a specially called meeting, the Devine ISD School Board pondered a myriad of important decisions they had never imagined possible brought on by this national, as well as world-wide, emergency.
Superintendent Todd Grandjean gave an update on recent decisions by Texas Governor Abbot and the Texas Education Agency (TEA), to aid schools during this emergency. Texas Educational Commissioner Mike Morath spoke recently of the possibility of school closures for up to 8 weeks or, even possibly, the remaining semester.
Devine Schools are currently closed for a suspension of normal operations through Monday, March 20 as a precaution, and for preparation. Dr. Grandjean announced that determinations for additional closures will be decided on a week-to-week basis through group discussions with other Region 20 superintendents and CDC recommendations. Announcements will be made on each Thursday at noon for the following week starting this Thursday, March 19, 2020.
While loss of educational instruction is paramount, another concern with school closure is the loss of meals for students. The district applied for and has been granted a Texas Department of Agriculture (TAD) waiver to reimburse the cost of meals for students. Starting Tuesday, March 17, Devine ISD began providing two meals a day for students at the Devine Student Activity Center. They are asking parents to participate in a poll on the district Facebook page to help in planning purposes for this meal program. At their first breakfast serving Tuesday morning they provided meals to 30 students and at lunchtime they served over 100 students before 12 noon.
Because of probable recent spring break travel, all returning employees have been asked to answer a google survey to determine possible exposure to the Covid-19 virus and clearance protocols for return to work. Board members discussed possible self-quarantines by employees and self-reports if family members test positive for the virus during the weeks to come.
Governor Abbot has worked with TEA to suspend STAAR testing and SSI requirements for promotion for this year for most Texas students. The Governor has also recommended that all ruling public boards and councils should replace public meetings for online digital meetings. Board member Renee Frieda pointed out the importance that, “We must provide a way to include access for local citizen communication in online meetings.”
Dr. Grandjean also discussed how he and his staff are looking at possible alternative instructional delivery methods during suspended operations that include Google platform instruction, requirements and services for special needs students, and educational paper packets for families with technology situations.
At 7:12pm the Board went into closed session to consider, discuss and take possible action to adopt resolutions related to any emergency school closures and particulars that would affect personnel. They also looked at legal issues surrounding school closures.
Board members returned at 8:34 PM. Board President Nancy Pepper asked for a motion to vote on a resolution to give permission to Superintendent Grandjean to pay all employees during school closures. Kerri James made the motion, seconded by Henry Moreno. The motion was approved unanimously 7-0.
Upon approval, Nancy Pepper pointed out that the importance of this decision was that all at-will, support staff will continue to be paid even if the schools are closed. “We must help all employees continue to provide for their families during this time,” she said.
Board members in attendance were Nancy Pepper, Rene Frieda, Henry Moreno, Keri James, Carl Brown, Philip Fitch and Chris Davis. The next regular DISD School Board Meeting is scheduled for Monday, March 23 at 6:30pm. It has not been determined if the meeting will be held at the Devine ISD Administration building at 605 W. Hondo Ave or through an online application as mentioned above.
By Candace De Jesus
Staff Writer