"I feel like we have reached the point where we need to move outside the bounds of policy," said Dumas Independent School District (DISD) Superintendent Monte Hysinger at an emergency meeting of the DISD Board of Trustees called Wednesday to deal with the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. With over 900 of the 1100 school districts across the state closed and Sunray Independent School District (SISD) Superintendent Marshal Harrison announcing Tuesday that he was holding SISD students on spring break for at least an additional week, the DISD Board of Trustees voted unanimously to approve a resolution granting DISD Superintendent Monte Hysinger the temporary power to act outside normal procedures and make policy for DISD schools in regard to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic without having to get board approval for every action. The superintendent will have the "authority to make emergency modifications to disaster policies as needed to provide for, without limit, closure of schools, Disaster Declaration, and to mitigate public health risks during the COVID-19 worldwide epidemic," according to the notice announcing the meeting. The powers will last for 45 days or until the end of the state of emergency declared by Texas Governor Greg Abbot last week. Hysinger said he will report all actions and expenditures to the board during the regular monthly board meetings that will continue to be held during the crisis.
Having been granted the power by the board, Hysinger announced that DISD students, who are currently on spring break, will not return to class on March 23 as planned, but will continue on spring break for another week. He said that during the second week of spring break, teachers and staff will return to school for at least a few hours per day to work with administrators to finalize a plan to provide instruction for students at home. On March 30, DISD staff will resume instruction, but the students will be at home for the foreseeable future. They will not be returning to class until the emergency is over. Instruction will be provided online and/or in packets that will be picked up by students or delivered to them, completed at home, and returned for grading. Hysinger and Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Kelly Legg said teachers would maintain contact with students to help them and account for their work and progress. Every effort would be made to minimize the negative impact such a radical change in instruction will have on the future academic performance of students. Gov. Abbot has waived state performance testing for the duration of the crisis.
Hysinger and Legg acknowledged the enormity of the challenge, but both said there was no good alternative, given the rapidly changing situation and the trend among the rest of the districts of the state. "We are in line with what Amarillo and Canyon are doing," said Hysinger. Both districts recently announced school closures.
"We are in uncharted waters," said Legg. She added that the district was reaching out to local daycare centers, JBS, and others to deal with the problem of working parents with elementary-school-aged children.
DISD Director of Information Technology Jake Aragon said he was working on providing the district with a mobile WiFi hotspot. Some students' homes lack internet service. And DISD Director of Operations Eddie Crossland said he was working on a plan to use district buses to deliver instruction packets, meals, and other things to students at home.
Hysinger said the district would continue to provide breakfast and lunch to children, but in ways that do not expose them to the risk of infection.
Sports and extracurricular activities have been cancelled. The UIL suspended all competition recently. Both the prom and graduation are up in the air at this point; school officials are considering alternate dates.
Hysinger said he is in regular contact with state authorities and that the state has given local districts a lot of flexibility in responding to the crisis. "We will find a way to get it done," he said.
"I have full faith in our staff," said Board President Patty Willis.