In the regularly called meeting of the HISD Board of Trustees, held Tuesday, July 14, 2020, covered everything from considering resignations to basic approval of minutes. In an interesting and pointed deviation from regular meeting events, teachers Sarah McManus, Katie Hurst, and Sarah Hunnicutt took a moment to express their concerns with HISD Administration and the Board.
In the Superintendent’s Report, Dr. Thurston Lamb told the board that the administrative team has been working hard on a comprehensive plan for the return to school and although details are changing nearly every day, he hopes to share the bulk of those plans in the next days. For the rest of the meeting, the board meeting was focused mostly on an overview of the instructional plan for the coming year and required legal actions.
Perhaps the most informative part of the meeting came in the second half when Dr. Bonneau presented the instructional plan for the coming school year. There have been countless numbers of hours spent on developing this plan.
The plan lays out exactly how students will interact with teachers either on-campus or at home as a part of the district’s ROAR@home remote learning option. While Dr. Bonneau’s proposed plan appeared to be sound, the COVID-19 situation, and the requirements associated, change daily and adjustments and amendments are expected to be made within the near future.
The board went on to approve the hiring of the following staff:
Bridgette Sanders, Elementary Teacher;
Tristan Thompson, Middle School Teacher;
Christine Carroll Williamson, High School Counselor;
John Craig Wilson, Middle School Teacher;
Tray King, High School Teacher;
Barbara Glasgow, Middle School Teacher;
Tracy Allums, Elementary School Teacher;
Meredith Rain, High School Teacher;
Jennifer Price Dickson, Middle School Teacher;
Debora Lynn Fike, Elementary Teacher;
Savannah Howell, High School Teacher;
Jennifer Reynolds, Elementary Teacher;
Gregory Rowe, Middle School Teacher;
Deborah Trujillo, Middle School Teacher;
Ellie Ebanks, High School Teacher;
Morgan Smith, High School Teacher;
Rochelle Northcutt, Middle School Teacher/Coach;
Tyler Stern, Middle School Teacher/Coach;
Nathan Hanson, Middle School Teacher/Coach.
The board accepted the resignation of Deidra Sutton, who has served as an administrator at Wylie Elementary School for the past seven years and the last four as principal. The district wished to thank Ms. Sutton for her service and wished her the best in her future endeavors.
In other actions, the board approved:
The order for the upcoming board of trustees elections set for November;
A revised local policy (DCE(Local)) to allow contacts for non-certified employees;
A list of positions that will use non-certified contracts;
The purchase of student activity insurance for 2020-2021;
A service contract with Region VII including access to the academic content; and
the gifted and talented cooperatives.
The board also announced that the next regularly scheduled school board meeting would be held on August 11, 2020.
During the public comments section, the group of HISD teachers spoke before the board expressing their reticence at the impending return to class.
Sarah McManus, the Career Ed teacher at HMS, addressed the group, pointing out the moments in her career that fell under the “unprecedented times” moniker given to ongoing events. She recounted the fear that grew daily after September 11 and, more recently, the credible gun threat that affected HISD campuses amid growing numbers of active shooter cases on school campuses around the nation. “I remember agreeing with Emily Mansinger who said, ‘If someone is coming for our kids, they’re going to have to come through me.’, said McManus. “So when I show up here worried about my safety, I want you to know that I have a record of being fiercely dedicated to student safety in even the most bizarre circumstances.”
McManus continued to expertly communicate not only her fears but to raise the questions pertinent to those educators who will soon be asked to stand in these rooms and teach. “ I am here because while I was not an expert in terrorist defense or disarming gun-wielding teenagers, I know a heck of a lot about being sneezed on, hugged, having to wipe up spit, and telling middle schoolers “that’s gross, don’t do that.” And I’m scared,” said McManus. “The questions we have are difficult and complicated and I respect the work y’all are already doing. But you should be including active classroom teachers in your discussions, full stop. You need our perspective. Believe me when I say, when you’re facing unusual circumstances, teachers have been there.”
Katie Hurst, an HMS Science teacher addressed the board with statistics. She pointed out that 13.5% of HISD students, 454 children, are disabled. Many of them suffering from diabetes and asthma, diseases that could leave them more susceptible to COVID-19, and complicate recovery if they did contract the virus. “I worry about their families, too,” said Hurst. “The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s reported on Rusk County says that we outpace other Texas counties when it comes to heart disease, obesity, and several cancers. And of course, teachers and staff are also members of this vulnerable community. Many of our teachers suffer from these diseases or are pregnant, nursing, or old enough to be in the danger zone for COVID.”
When asked about her current feelings towards her impending return to work Hurst said, “I’m anxious. The board and administration have been working really hard to make plans, and I feel that they genuinely care about the safety of students and staff.”
“I’m anxious because I don’t know how the current plan will work. This is a very unique situation, and it is hard to predict how things will go this fall. I am glad that older students are expected to wear masks in addition to staff wearing masks. I am excited to use the new online programs that the district has purchased. The programs should allow us to give students who choose online learning a great learning experience.”
The fear these teachers expressed is reflected in teachers across the state, and in fact, the country. Yet, while dealing with feelings of anxiety and fear, each teacher defended the actions of the HISD Administration, never implying that decisions made were intended to put staff in harm’s way. They each remarked at how hard the district is working to ensure the reopening plan for HISD is manageable and safe for both students and staff.