Coronavirus concerns prompt school closures, e-learning

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

At Marfa ISD, where students are on spring break this week, school officials started the vacation a day early, canceling classes last Friday, March 13.

“There is no immediate danger,” MISD Superintendent Oscar Aguero wrote in an email to parents last week. Instead, he said the early break would give maintenance and custodial workers “an extra day of cleaning and disinfecting of all classrooms, desks and materials.”

Rumors that any number of Marfa ISD students are suspected to have coronavirus are false, Aguero and Dr. J.P. Schwartz said last week.

As of press time, Marfa students are currently set to return to school next Tuesday, March 24. Please check our website, bigbendsentinel.com, for timely updates as this situation is rapidly changing. If Marfa ISD does need to cancel classes for longer, Aguero said the school district is considering extending the school year rather than adopting online learning. He cited concerns that not all students would have reliable connectivity. Marfa ISD is also considering workbooks.

School officials like Aguero are staying in regular communication with officials from the Texas Education Agency. In areas where the coronavirus has already spread, the TEA has warned that schools could stay closed for the remainder of the year. So far, though, that doesn’t include Presidio County, which at press time on Wednesday had no cases.

Longer spring breaks aren’t the only changes. For students in the 2019-2020 school year, the TEA has already waived requirements for STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness) testing.

In Presidio city, Presidio ISD is also 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: https://bigbendsentinel.com/2020/03/12/coronavirus-live-updates-from-big-bend-sentinel-and-presidio-international/#schools. Readers can also find a link to live coverage at the top of our webpage, http://bigbendsentinel.com.

In Alpine, Alpine ISD will be closed Monday, March 16, through Friday, March 20, as a precaution against coronavirus. The school will provide curbside lunch service to students from noon until 1 p.m. daily, the school district said last Friday.

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.

At Alpine Montessori School, where students were set to return from spring break this week, school officials have said they will stay closed an additional two weeks. The move is a precaution at the recommendations of health officials, Alpine Montessori said. The school hopes to reopen on March 30, a school official said last Thursday.

Other grade schools have closed as well. Valentine ISD will be closed through at least Friday, March 27, Superintendent Debbie Engle said. The school district will monitor the coronavirus situation and is working to provide remote instruction, she said.

Terlingua CSD will be closed through Friday, March 20. The district is also developing systems for remote instruction, Superintendent Reagan Reed said on Saturday.

Fort Davis ISD will not have face-to-face instruction until at least Friday, March 20, at which point the district will reevaluate, Fort Davis ISD Superintendent Graydon Hicks said in a statement to parents last Friday.

The closures are also impacting extracurriculars. The University Interscholastic League has cancelled two upcoming events — the UIL CX Debate State Tournament and the UIL State Robotics FIRST Tech Challenge — until further notice. That guidance applies to schoolwide sports practices as well 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 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.

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.


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