COVID-19 back-to-school restrictions was the focus of public comments at the Sept. 15 Highland Park ISD board meeting.
The last speaker, Ross Nobles, said he presented a letter to the board with a compilation of parent concerns.
“First, I want to thank all of you for letting us go back to school and have a little idea of how much time and effort you put into it, but after this first week, we feel there’s a few questions and concerns that we can address together and be creative and come up with solutions,” Nobles said. “We understand the district has guidelines to follow as long as they’re in place… However, I would argue our particular restrictions have taken on a life of their own and many parents have pinpointed some problems and inconsistencies and burdensome requirements that go above and beyond the TEA and Governor Abbott’s orders.”
Nobles also asked why a hybrid model was chosen at Highland Park High School.
“I’m just not sure we’re properly allocating the balance between our kids emotional and academic needs versus safety. We’re really concerned they’re going to fall back academically and socially. We don’t want this to be our new normal. So when can we begin to phase these restrictions out and safely move on to where we were before? Do we have the plan in place? What are the metrics needed to begin this phase out?” he said.
Since Aug. 20 and as of Sept. 16, HPISD has reported six COVID-19 cases involving students, three more that have since been cleared to return, and two involving staff members at the high school, as well as one case involving a staff member at Armstrong. The district’s COVID-19 webpage is available here.
Superintendent Tom Trigg said administrators are continuously monitoring and evaluating the situation, and student, faculty, and staff safety and health remain a priority.
“Student safety, health, faculty and staff safety and health – really our number one priority,” Trigg said. “As our committee developed their charge and developed what the priorities are, the number one priority has been and will continue to be the health and safety of everyone who’s involved, and that includes community safety as well.”
He added that there isn’t a timeline to implement changes to the safety protocols.
“What I’m trying to tell you is we’re open to that as the situation develops, as circumstances put us in a position where we feel like it makes sense to make modifications and changes,” Trigg said. “We’re trying to look very closely at our two zip codes and those numbers.”
There was an outburst or two from the audience, prompting a call for civility from one of the trustees.
Trustee Tom Sharpe also noted the competing objectives of educating students and minimizing the spread of COVID-19.
“We’re trying to educate the kids the very best way possible – intellectually, socially, emotionally, physically – do all the things that we would normally do, and at the same time, we’re having to take into account this disease that’s in our land, and we’re trying to minimize contagion, and… those objectives are diametrically opposed. We have almost 7,000 students… and, as you can appreciate, there are a very wide range of perspectives, and we’re not trying to prioritize one group over another; we’re trying to do what’s best for all the kids across the board,” Sharpe said.
He added that the district has received probably an equal number of responses that the district hasn’t been doing enough to slow the spread.
“There’s a wide range of perspectives on what is the appropriate level of PPE for our kids K-12,” Sharpe said. “I will tell you for me I continue to try to assess, ‘Hey, what is the appropriate level to put in place to make sure that our teachers feel comfortable coming back to school every day. If we get into a situation where teachers feel uncomfortable and either is unable to come to school or has to resign or whatever and we then have to go out and get an army of substitutes – that’s a really bad outcome…to me, that’s the doomsday scenario that we as leaders have to guarantee that… we do everything to prevent that from happening.’”