HOUSTON - The new school year is coming with some new challenges as the pandemic puts a strain on schools in several different ways, including employee shortages.
COVID-19 is creating quite a few hurdles that Houston Independent School District Superintendent Millard House says the district is preparing for and putting every measure possible in place to ensure a safe and productive school year.
"COVID-19 is a once in a lifetime event and it’s a once in a lifetime event that I wish would have not happened in my lifetime, quite frankly, but we are where we are and we have to deal with what we have to deal with."
Just a month and a half on the job, some of what HISD's new Superintendent is dealing with is keeping kids safe in schools while a pandemic continues to infect more people.
"When I got here six weeks ago, the COVID-19 overall community spread data over the course of 14 days was about 4% and right now we’re over 16%. The variant is moving fast."
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Perhaps the pandemic is playing a role, adding to the problem of a shortage of bus drivers and now HISD is short by about 400 teachers as well.
"At one point during the summer, we were closer to 600. We’re still chomping at the bit. Hopefully, we’ll get that number down even more. For where we are right now, we’re going to be implementing our intermediate strategy of deploying some of those individuals that are not in teaching positions but have the credentials to teach."
The largest school district in Texas used to have nearly 211,000 students. Since COVID, that number is down to less than 197,000.
"It’s something we’re going to continue to push hard to develop strong relationships, making sure the kids know and understand they have a place to go for support."
House recently met a student and the student's single mom is severely sick with COVID, so the high schooler went to work, becoming the bread-winner for the family. House says HISD is working to make sure all of their students continue their education.
"Every service looks different. Every family has different needs but the resources that we have are vast and we’re going to do everything in our power to ensure our families get what they need. If a student is not in a place where they need to be socially and emotionally, they have a tough time learning."
This year, HISD will also begin to address students' learning loss for those who struggled virtually.
"Whether it’s high dose tutoring. Whether it’s after-school programs. We have to, over the course of the next two to three years, provide whatever is necessary for them to catch up. We know virtual has been very difficult for a majority of the students across the country."
Although Texas Governor Greg Abbott is banning mask mandates, Superintendent House is recommending everyone in HISD schools and on buses be required to wear a mask. The board is expected to vote on and potentially pass that recommendation Thursday. Superintendent House says hand washing will also be encouraged in the schools and the buses and buildings will be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.
"We have Static Electric Sprayers that we spray our schools down with every evening."
He’s also encouraging everyone of age to get vaccinated.
"If you’re an individual that can be vaccinated, it’s important that you do so. Super Saturdays will be happening throughout August and September. We encourage individuals to come out and get vaccinated. It’s very important."
On Friday, HISD will release its new COVID Ready, Set, Go plan so parents can take a look at the updated protocols and safety measures.