Natalia ISD scuttles plan to eliminate distance learning after COVID-19 outbreak

Natalia ISD’s Board of Trustees voted during its October 12 meeting to discontinue remote learning for students with failing grades or unacceptable attendance as of Oct. 19, and for all students on November 2.
Those plans were put on hold just two days later thanks to a COVID-19 outbreak among students and staff that resulted in a two-day closure of Natalia High School and the postponement of a football game after the varsity squad was quarantined.
Now, discontinuation of remote learning for students who have unacceptable attendance or failing grades is postponed until further notice, and the current target date for eliminating the remote option altogether is January 4, 2021.
The Board plans to revisit the issue in November.
“The facts changed locally, which resulted in us reversing our initial stance,” Board President Eric Smith said. “The data shows we need to get our children back on campus. This will be a priority of mine when the time is right and safe.”
The Board originally voted to discontinue remote learning after Interim Superintendent Dr. Lana Collavo’s presentation on attendance and grade issues.
As of Oct. 2, most of the district’s 1,029 students had returned to campus, with 662 attending in-person classes and 367 students, or roughly 37 percent, still participating in distance learning.

Tap or click to see more from Chaparral Ford!

Overall attendance is better among students who attend in person, with seven grades below the target of 97 percent attendance, while distance learners in nine grades are below that same target.
Failure rates are also higher among remote students. At NHS, 51 of the 107 remote students were failing at least one class as of Oct. 8, compared to 64 of the 208 students on campus.
“We do have some [remote] students that are doing a good job, but we have some students which still have not done anything,” Collavo said. “And that is a concern for the district, for student achievement, for long-term learning.”
Natalia ISD isn’t the only district attempting to restrict or entirely phase out remote instruction, which the Texas Education Agency no longer requires. Nixon-Smiley CISD and Hondo ISD eliminated distance learning entirely, while Bandera ISD and D’Hanis ISD require remote learners who are failing or have excessive absences to return to campus.
“Stats and data show, unfortunately, that the majority of kids are not benefitting educationally from distance learning, and the gaps are widening,” Smith said. “This is an issue no community will agree with 100% of the time, but at the end of the day, our district and others will be held accountable for student progress and success in education.”
Additional difficulties identified with remote learning include a decrease in student achievement, lack of engagement, inability to benefit from the school lunch program, and instruction time lost to time-consuming attendance tracking.
“We are here for the kids,” Smith said, “but we are also an employer, and we have to give our staff the tools needed to be successful while maintaining a healthy, safe, and lower-stress atmosphere. Teachers and staff are working three times as hard right now, and this situation is not fair to them either.”
But thanks to Natalia’s COVID-19 outbreak, distance learning remains in place for now despite its drawbacks.
By Marly Davis
Staff Writer