The Victoria school district continues to make plans and adjustments in the event face-to-face instruction is suspended.

Superintendent Quintin Shepherd said the conversation COVID-19’s impact on the school district is ever-changing, but district officials are trying to plan as best as possible.

“We’re not planning on extending spring break at this point,” Shepherd said Monday afternoon. “That could change in a moment’s notice.”

Conversations began the first day of spring break with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending people avoid gatherings of 10 or more people, but it excluded schools. That decision was left to local officials and superintendents to make.

“We recognize the CDC’s recommendations, and we want to take those recommendations seriously,” Shepherd said.

School district officials will use the CDC’s recommendation and continue to build plans to best fit its community along with direction from the Texas Education Agency.

“I’m OK with the direction and guidance we’ve been getting at TEA,” Shepherd said. “I do believe that this needs to be a highly coordinated local decision.”

Shepherd said he has been working with the city’s emergency team about best practices moving forward, but no major change of plans have been announced.

“We’re coming up with a couple of scenarios we’re going to try and deploy,” he said.

Some of those scenarios include the possibility of closing physical campuses and opening virtual ones instead. Another issue Shepherd and the district look to resolve is that of internet access, if in-person instruction is suspended.

“There is no plan that closing schools means kids would not have any responsibility at all,” he said.

Those responsibilities are unknown at this time, but district officials are using the spring break to brainstorm.

Most districts are in the same position as Victoria, including Hallettsville school district. Superintendent Jo Ann Bludau said there are no plans to extend spring break, but the district put out a survey to gauge the community on whether that is a viable option.

She said the survey touches on child care, food availability and self-isolation to see whether community members can afford to have their children at home all day. The survey was sent to parents and on social media, and it is scheduled to close Wednesday.

St. Joseph High School sent out a notice to parents Monday, notifying them that the school will extend its spring break by an extra week. Classes are scheduled to reconvene March 30, according to the notice from St. Joseph’s president John Gilley.

If school does not reconvene, students will move to a “distance-learning model,” according to the notice.

“This decision on school closure will also include the continuation of the current suspension of all extracurricular activities,” Gilley said in the letter. “No school activities of any kind will take place through March 29.”

Victoria school district officials brainstormed the effects of Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to suspend the STAAR test Monday afternoon. Abbott announced Monday that the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness test would not be required for the 2019-20 school year because of the new coronavirus spread.

“With regard to so many school closures, it is just going to be impossible to implement the STARR test this year,” Abbott said during a news conference in San Antonio on Monday afternoon.

More than half of the schools in Texas have closed, Abbott said.

Shepherd said he appreciates the governor’s actions to drop the state requirement, but it leaves the district reeling with how to assess its students.

“There are huge implications with that,” Shepherd said. “The school district now has some pretty significant work that needs to be done.”

End of course exams and the STAAR test is used to determine whether a student is ready to graduate or move onto the next grade level. Without the test, the district now has to create another set of requirements, Shepherd said.

“Everything about how we grade students and move them along has now changed,” he said. “The one thing we’re not going to be doing is socially promoting all our kids. We’re going to have standards and requirements for our kids to meet in order to recognize they are moving from one grade level to the next.”

Without the state test, TEA cannot assign accountability scores, Shepherd said.

Shepherd said suspending the STAAR for a year is a good start, but he still looks to the College Board for guidance for SAT and ACT testing.

The one consistent thing for the Victoria school district right now is the deep cleaning high-use buildings are getting this week.

The Schorlemmer Elementary School custodial team, geared with their trolley of cleaning essentials, detailed nooks and crannies of the campus while students were out for spring break.

They focused on scrubbing high traffic areas like the cafeteria and bathrooms before the maintenance crews come into the school to disinfect with Clorox 360 devices. The same cleaning happened across the district.

Custodian Ramona King spent her afternoon washing the walls of the elementary school’s bathrooms with a mop held high above her head. She wanted to make every tile shine.

“We’re going to do everything in our power to scour surfaces and cover those high traffic and high touch areas,” Shepherd said. “We’re going to hit this r eally hard in the mindset; we’re going to do everything for our students and our staff.”

Samantha Douty is the education reporter at the Victoria Advocate. She grew up in Corpus Christi and graduated from UT-Arlington with a bachelor's in journalism.

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