SAN ANTONIO – One year ago, San Antonio students began their 2020 spring break only to learn it wouldn’t end as planned. COVID-19 pandemic worries had reached a tipping point by then, and schools around the country shut down.
San Antonio school superintendents are now looking back on lessons learned and where we are going from here.
North East ISD Superintendent Sean Maika is among part of a growing number of educators who are realizing what was lost to COVID-19 in that spring break week last year.
“Did I know it was going to impact our schools? Absolutely. Did I know it was going to shut schools in the way that it did? Absolutely not. I don’t think anybody could predict that,” Maika said.
Students who initially cheered that school was interrupted soon saw their joy turn to sadness and loneliness as virtual learning took its toll on their social interactions, grades and emotions.
Northside ISD Superintendent Brian Wood looks back with regret as well.
“I just look at the incredible learning loss that we saw in March, April and May last year and think about how long it’s going to take us and the amount of resources it’s going to take us to remediate that, to fix that, and it’s in my mind, something I wish we had not done,” Wood said.
The social isolation pressed upon children with virtual-only options manifested problems few saw coming. School lunches were re-imagined as curbside pickups, but some kids lost their only connection to regular meals. Having lost the community of teachers and peers in person also led to a spike in mental health concerns as well as social resources that identified abuse and neglect.
In one of the area’s most at-risk districts, a massive effort for outreach was quickly organized.
San Antonio ISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez said educators knew students would be especially affected by the lack of in person learning, but just as important, the lack of social interaction.
“We have advisory groups made up of parents and they share with us how their children are depressed. They’re feeling isolated,” Martinez said.
Going forward there are issues that are still not resolved, including the $6 billion of special COVID Relief Funding that was due to Texas school districts in January, but never arrived. There’s also the STAAR test to be sorted out, which is a point of confusion because different grades will have different accountability and some won’t have to take the test at all.
Speaking of tests, most school districts are now offering regular COVID-19 tests for staff and students, and vaccinations are now being added the mix. This one/two punch will likely get more kids back in the classroom faster as the semester continues and certainly by the fall. Selling that idea to parents and the community is a hurdle.
“It’s just ironic that people are willing to open up restaurants and bars and other businesses, which are very important to our community. Nobody wants it more open than I do. But yet, there’s still this hesitation about having schools open,” Martinez said. He explained that the extensive testing program in his district revealed an extremely low school contagion rate, with most cases of COVID-19 coming from outside in the community.
It’s a similar story at Northside ISD.
“One of the biggest challenges we’ve had is convincing families that the building is the best place for them to be, frankly. That they really need to be, in most cases, in the building. And that’s a struggle that goes on to this day,” Wood said.
All the superintendents are convinced that virtual learning is still going to exist in some form or fashion from here on out, but the exact format is still being constructed. District leaders said look for the fall school plans to roll out by the end of this semester.