UPDATE: EPISD trustees on Tuesday unanimously approved submitting a request to the Texas Education Association to extend online learning to eight weeks total, up from the originally planned four weeks.
The board agreed with Superintendent Juan Cabrera's recommendation that El Paso's coronavirus positivity testing rate should be at 5% or lower before going back to classrooms.
Board member Jose Acevedo noted that El Paso hasn't had a positivity rate that low since mid-April. Cabrera said the district would discuss next steps in September if the 5% benchmark isn't met.
ORIGINAL REPORT: EL PASO, Texas -- The start of the new school year for students of the El Paso Independent School District is slated to begin Monday, Aug. 17 online.
But officials with El Paso's largest district are looking to extend the start of in-person education until at least Oct. 19.
District Superintendent Juan Cabrera plans to file an application with the Texas Education Agency to extend remote learning. As it stands, the TEA has given EPISD four weeks to transition from online classes to in-classroom learning.
The Teachers Association of El Paso supports the delay.
“Until those cases of the virus are stabilized enough at a point that it becomes safe then for our students and our teachers go back into the building. we are advocating that they not go back into the building and that the virtual learning takes place,” Norma de la Rosa, president of the Teachers Association of El Paso said.
De la Rosa believes even if students were to be brought back to campus the difference in learning would be minimal. She also believes teachers would not be able to connect as they always have with their students because of masks.
“A lot of times a student won’t ask a question, but we can tell by looking at their face ‘oh he doesn’t understand’ and so that’s how we can do that and we are not going to be able to do that wearing masks,” De la Rosa said.
Cabrera ideally wants to keep children at home until El Paso's virus testing positivity rate drops to 5% for two weeks.
The proposed delay in the return to the classroom is on the agenda for EPISD's board meeting on Tuesday, and the trustee for district six said the delay has his support.
Trsutee Freddy Klayel Avalos said lesson learned from virtual teaching at the end of last school year has positioned teachers and students for online success.
“This time around they’ve had the experience from last semester and preparing for this semester, so we feel that they would be more than capable of being able to take command of the class and assisting the students," he said.
Avalos added, "Because of those factors we feel that they are definitely ready (for distance learning) and we have leveled out the playing field for all the students."
Some parents also support the added delay, saying it is too soon to have kids back in the classroom as Covid-19 cases continue to increase.
“They shouldn’t have to be forced to go back to school and teach if they have an auto-immune deficiency or they have someone at home that they care for that could get sick and possibly die just from doing their job,” said Starlynn Lucero- Ortiz, a parent of three school-aged children.
Lucero-Ortiz said she is prepared to take her children out of school if the TEA does not grant an extension to virtual learning.
“My family safety means more to me than anything. If I have to take them all out of school and home school them, if they are going to be forced to go back before I feel comfortable, than that is what I am going to do,” she said.