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The Cleburne ISD board of trustees approved a revised 2020-21 school calendar with a new start date of Aug. 31.

During Monday night's meeting, the board unanimously approved the new calendar, which was presented by Chris Jackson, CISD assistant superintendent of data, research and school improvement.

“You know what they say about hindsight,” Jackson said. “A month ago, I stood before you and I advocated for a redesign of the calendar brought to you by the superintendent's cabinet. That calendar included a start date of Aug. 3 and our thinking at that time was to provide a strong start and get back to face-to-face learning following a 44-day closure where some significant learning gaps were created. At that time, COVID-19 cases were relatively low. … However, some things have changed.”

Jackson cited three primary reasons for the second revised calendar.

“Daily new cases of COVID-19 have increased nearly tenfold across the state,” Jackson said. “The second point is related to the first point: we are enrolling a much higher than expected number of remote learning students for fall 2020 semester. And third is the TEA continues to throw new directives, program changes and protocols out there. As late as last week, we are still reacting to enact policies, protocols and guidelines to what would be an Aug. 3 start, so our proposal is we adopt a new calendar that pushes the start date back to Aug. 31.”

On June 15, board members approved an Aug. 3 start date for the new school year. But because of the reasons Jackson discussed, that start date was no longer a viable option.

“I think the board made the best decision they could in June,” CISD Board President Elizabeth Childress said. “… I think this is our best option for now.”

In addition to the first school day being moved back to Aug. 31, the first teacher workday has moved from July 29 to Aug. 14. May 28 remains the last day of school. And the new calendar includes 78,570 instructional minutes (of the 75,600 required).

Monday was the final day for parents to enroll their students for the 2020-21 year, but Jackson said only 64% of eligible students have been registered. Jackson said he believes the low percentage of enrollment is because of parents waiting to weigh their options because of the pandemic.

“It is low for hitting a deadline,” Jackson said. “Any other year we'd be 90% enrolled. Considering the effort we've gone through — calls, posts through Skyward, website, social media — we feel like word has gotten out there that today was the target day and we're only sitting 65% so it is much lower than I'd expect. … That's likely due to some parents waiting as long as possible for final decision on face-to-face or in-person learning.”

With the approval of the new calendar, Jackson said CISD will extend the deadline for enrollment but didn't he have a specific date. Jackson also said parents that have already registered can go back in and change their child's learning option.

“Parents can also go back and choose a new instructional option,” he said. “If someone has chosen remote, in a couple weeks they can go back in and opt for face-to-face.”

Of the 64% of students that have already been enrolled, 67.78% of parents enrolled their students for face-to-face learning while 32.22% have chosen the remote learning option, as of Monday. And Jackson said the percentage of parents opting for remote learning has been on the rise recently.

“During a parent survey in early June, we estimated 15% [would choose remote learning],” Jackson said. “Of course, parents were basing that off the info we had relatively low cases at the time. As of today, that is 32% and that has continued to increase. When we first started open enrollment, it started at 20% and every day it has increased.”

Based on data presented in a slideshow, 30% of students at Cleburne High School are enrolled in the remote learning option. The highest percentage of remote learning in the district is at Santa Fe Elementary (45%). Wheat Middle School and Cooke and Marti elementary schools were each listed at 39% remote learning.

“With these numbers so far, we'll be serving over 2,000 students in remote learning,” Jackson said. “That is a significantly higher number than we expected.”

Jackson said the option to start the school year via remote learning district-wide was still on the table, if necessary.

“We don't know what the next month may hold or what the governor may choose to do,” Jackson said. “Just like June 15, we thought we had the lay of the land and a month later here we are today. We don't know what's going to happen. It is a possibility that we start with remote learning. … Based on what health and safety guidelines may look like in a month, that option may be on the table.”

Before Jackson's presentation and before the board voted to approve the calendar, only two members of the audience addressed the board, with one public comment urging CISD to either start school Aug. 3 via remote learning or push the start of the school year back to Aug. 31.

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