Coronavirus concerns prompt school closures, e-learning in Presidio and beyond

TRI-COUNTY — As concerns over coronavirus reached the Big Bend last week, schools across the region extended spring breaks, canceled events and modified their teaching practices.

For students in the 2019-2020 school year, the Texas Education Agency has waived requirements for STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness) testing.

Federal and state authorities are working to ensure that low-income students still get no-cost lunches like this amid school closures. Among other actions, the Texas Department of Agriculture requested — and the USDA approved — a waiver suspending rules requiring that schoolchildren eat such lunches in a group setting.

In Presidio city, Presidio ISD is on spring break this week. Students are set to return to school on Monday, March 23, and school officials there have not yet said what their plans are. The Big Bend Sentinel/Presidio International will provide more updates in Presidio as we get them.

Since Thursday, The Big Bend Sentinel/Presidio International has been working overtime to bring readers time-sensitive updates on issues like this — and we’ll provide updates as soon as we hear from Presidio ISD. Those updates are available on our live updates page, at: Readers can also find a link to live coverage at the top of our webpage,

The closures are already impacting extracurriculars. The University Interscholastic League has canceled two upcoming events — the UIL CX Debate State Tournament and the UIL State Robotics FIRST Tech Challenge — until further notice.

At the university level, Sul Ross State University is also experiencing disruptions. The school last week canceled in-person instruction through at least April 12. Then, on Monday, university president Bill Kibler said the school would likely have no face-to-face classes for the remainder of the semester.

Instead, the school said it would switch to remote-learning options like “Zoom” video conferencing, conference calls, email and chat rooms. The school — which was set to return to classes last Monday, March 16 — also extended spring break for an extra week.

The school is authorizing emergency paid leave for various categories of employees, including student workers. Department heads including directors, department chairs, and above were asked to report to work to strategize plans for remote course delivery and business operations.

All upcoming university events — including the alumni gala, Trappings of Texas, honors convocation, Sully Showcase, scholars luncheon, alumni ring ceremony and the May 2020 commencement exercises in Alpine and Eagle Pass — are canceled until further notice, President Bill Kibler said on Monday. The dining hall is discontinuing self-service and will instead offer to-go meals to on-campus residents, who will not be allowed to gather in the dining hall.

The cancellations are extending to sports as well. The American and Southwest Conference is canceling ALL athletic championships and competitions for the remainder of the academic year. The cancellations will affect competitions for baseball, golf, softball, tennis and outdoor track and field, the organization said Friday.

Institutions like colleges will set their own rules regarding non-traditional practices and competitions for cross-country, football, soccer and volleyball, the ASC said.

On Monday, Kibler also asked students to self-quarantine for 14 days if they’ve been through any of the following airports in the past week: John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York; Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) in Illinois; San Francisco International Airport (SFO) in California; Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) in Washington; Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL) in Hawaii; Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in California; Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) in Georgia; Washington-Dulles International Airport (IAD) in Virginia; Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) in New Jersey; Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) in Texas; Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW) in Michigan; Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) in Massachusetts; and Miami International Airport (MIA) in Florida.