County schools grapple with changing conditions

Wilbarger County schools will be shut down this week, with plans to offer online distance learning, starting March 30 as well as meals to students. The details on how that will work are still being ironed out this week by school staff.

The rapidly shifting conditions have created nightmares for local schools trying to develop plans for dealing with the coronavirus. The Vernon Independent School District’s board of trustees unanimously voted to give VISD Superintendent Jeff Byrd emergency powers on Thursday night after Byrd said the district had made three different sets of contingency plans only to have them become obsolete within hours.

Byrd expressed his frustration to the VISD board Thursday night.

“Everytime we make a plan or get started on a plan, they come along and cut our legs out from under us and we have to start over,” Byrd told the trustees.

At the beginning of the last week, VISD had a plan to keep students out two extra days, extending Spring Break, while teachers were to be back Monday.

But that changed by midweek.

On Wednesday morning VISD Superintendent Jeff Byrd met with county officials and other local school district superintendents including Mark Haught at Northside and Dave Thweatt at Harrold to present a unified plan to address the coronavirus pandemic.

He said that unless anyone objected, he was going to extend Spring Break a full week and do remote education through the end of the month, with small group on-campus learning labs.

Byrd said his staff had been working tirelessly to create a plan that could work. Thweatt and Haught agreed that their districts would follow VISD. Byrd said his staff was working to create an instructional plan, a plan to get assignments out, and a plan to feed students.

But by Thursday morning the VISD plan was obsolete after Gov. Greg Abbott issued a declaration closing all Texas schools until April 6 and banning campus instruction.

Whatever else takes place, Superintendent Byrd said he plans to make sure all VISD employees continue to work and draw a paycheck.

“I want to make sure our employees are at ease that they will have an opportunity to earn a salary,” Byrd said. “Everybody will have an opportunity to work. We will work around their children’s schedule.

“The biggest battle we are facing right now is there is zero flexibility with Special Ed,” he told the board. “We can not provide instruction on campus until after April 6.”

“How are you going to handle that, Special Ed? Trustee Kevin Young asked.

“I don’t have answer for that yet, that directive just came out today, but we are working on that,” Byrd said.

Byrd said the logistics of feeding every kid in the district will also need to be worked out.

Byrd said that a serious of planning sessions with staff and administrators this week will work out the details for all campuses.

On Thursday night, the trustees unanimously approved, on a motion from Kevin Young, the delegation of authority to the superintendent to make a broad number of decisions without board approval during the situation.  The declaration has a duration of 51 days.

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