Discussion held on how Dallas, Houston ISDs are reaching out to their at-risk students

As the school year comes to a close, school districts across the state are weighing their options for what next year will look like.

The group, Children At Risk, hosted a discussion with the two largest school districts in the state – Dallas ISD and Houston ISD – to see how they’re reaching out to their at-risk students, and what education might look like in the months ahead.

“What’s going on with our schools? How are they adapting to the coronavirus? How are they planning for the future? what does the future look like?” said Dr. Bob Sanborn, president and CEO of Children At Risk.

No one knows for sure what going to school will actually look like after the COVID-19 pandemic, especially at the state's two largest districts.

“Reduced students in the classroom, reduced staff, staff also working in a virtual format, some face-to-face,” Houston ISD interim Superintendent Dr. Grenita Lathan said. “I believe a number of our parents are going to want to keep their students at home, so we’ll need to continue to provide them with that option.”

Administrators at Houston ISD said they’re also concerned about mental health for at-risk students, and are making specialists available to support families.

“Mental health, social, emotional issues is another one that keeps me up at night,” Lathan explained. “The worry that we have students and families that were still trying to recover from Harvey and now they’re experiencing a different type of crisis.”

Both school districts in Houston and Dallas are concerned about helping students catch up once they do get back in the classroom.

Dallas ISD will be giving students other assessments besides STARR testing to gauge where they are in their learning.

“These students we’re talking about right now are the furthest behind, and in this context, they could get further behind, so the opportunity gap could get bigger,” Dallas ISD Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa said.

While the idea of changing the school year calendar is on the table, and some districts may be considering year-round schooling, Dr. Hinojosa said he would need more than a year to seek public input and implement a plan.

Houston ISD officials said they also need to get feedback, but could make some changes.

“What we’re looking at, is if we’re able, starting our school year on the same date but adding some additional weeks in advance for academic boot camps where we can still bring students in,” Lathan said.

For now, the uncertainty is affecting every district's ability to plan for next school year.

“We can’t go real deep yet because it’s an effort of futility unless you know how many kids are going to be in a classroom, how many adults we need, what supervision, what kind of activities,” Hinojosa said.

Superintendents for both school districts said they would need to get community input first before making any major changes to the new school year.

Dr. Hinojosa said he hopes to have more information by mid-June.