San Antonio-area school district leaders discuss future of classrooms, sports, budget constraints amid COVID-19 pandemic

Districts coming up with several plans depending on social distancing guidelines

School districts have the overwhelming task of planning out the future school year without knowing how the pandemic will change their plans.
School districts have the overwhelming task of planning out the future school year without knowing how the pandemic will change their plans.

SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio-area school districts are working on a plan to have students return to the classroom in the summer and fall.

School district leaders say they have to be flexible and ready to pivot based on the fluid situation and how guidelines change weekly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

San Antonio ISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez and Northside ISD Superintendent Dr. Brian Woods say they’re working on a plan that will best serve the families in their district.

“I would tell the community, let’s take it semester-by-semester,” Martinez said.

The plan for both would be to have a blended type of environment, where students are offered extended online learning and in-classroom learning. The leaders have learned that virtual classrooms work for some families, but not all.

“We’ve learned that there is a group of students that this is not the best option for, and as soon as we can get them back in a building, they will be better served,” Woods said.

For Martinez, some of the challenges also include the lack of internet access for some students.

Students can anticipate lunchtime to be different and will likely take place in classrooms. If social distancing guidelines continue, that may mean fewer students on the bus and more buses on the road to transport them. Contact sports will also likely be absent.

Martinez said some schools are more accommodating for social distancing, while other campuses are too small, and children might need to split their time between extended learning and classroom learning. The possibility of a track system and maybe even a morning- and afternoon-type schedule have also been mentioned.

Martinez said he has to be very open to the needs of the working parents in his district.

“My goal is I want to be a support for our families,” Martinez said. “I want to be a support for our local economy. I've told our staff it may look different from school to school just based on what's happening, you know, with the needs of the children and the needs of those families.”

Woods said plans are in the works to start summer school with a larger number of students than usual at NISD. He’s also pushing for the fall semester to begin in early August, a few weeks ahead of schedule.

He said some parents are open to distance learning and would like that option.

But the extra planning, additional resources and additional purchases in technology will likely take a toll on their budgets.

“Until you know and we can predict what the model will be, how exactly we're gonna serve students, it's a little bit hard to say what the impact of the budget will be,” Woods said. “Certainly, any of these options are more expensive than what we traditionally do. Schools are designed for efficiency. They're really not designed for social distancing.”

KSAT reached out to other school districts to find out their summer school and fall plans.

Somerset ISD said July is a target month for ramping up classroom sessions, assuming the district can have students in classrooms by then. But if students are limited to distance or remote learning, the district will not be going that route in the summer.

South San Antonio ISD said it is still working on a summer plan, and officials will know more later this week.

A spokesperson for the Texas Education Agency said they are in constant communication with superintendents across the state. Due to the fluid situation, the TEA has not yet provided guidance on best practices related to summer instruction or the 2020-2021 school year, but they are forthcoming.


About the Authors:

Patty Santos joined the KSAT 12 News team in July 2017. She has a proven track record of reporting on hard-hitting news that affects the community.

Before starting KSAT in 2017, Lee was a photojournalist at KENS 5, where he won a Lone Star Emmy in 2014 for Best Weather Segment. In 2009 and 2010 Lee garnered first-place awards with the Texas Association of Broadcasters for Best Investigative Series in College Station, as well as winning first place for Staff Photojournalism in 2011 at KBTX.