MISD tightens rules for virtual learners

Students with poor grades and/or attendance may be required to return to campus in second semester

Bill Spinks
Midlothian Mirror

The Midlothian Independent School District will soon be making some adjustments to its platforms of face-to-face and virtual learning. Virtual students who are struggling with grades and/or attendance may be required to return to campus beginning in January.

In a special meeting last Wednesday, trustees unanimously approved a plan that will give virtual students grade and attendance requirements to meet in order to remain virtual. This will go into effect at the start of the second semester on Jan. 5.

The Texas Education Agency last month issued a change to its guidance where districts can require virtual students to return to face-to-face learning if a student has a class average of 70 or below in any one or more classes, and/or has three or more unexcused absences in a grading period.

Dr. Courtney Carpenter, MISD’s chief administrative officer, recommended that the district implement this guidance. Carpenter told trustees that exceptions may be made for medical, special education, or other reasons.

Carpenter said once the COVID-19 situation improves, the virtual program can begin to dial back by requiring all students who have a face-to-face course or activity to return to campus full-time. Eventually, the virtual option would be available only for students who qualify medically for themselves or a member of the same household. Any changes would be based on the local COVID health situation with at least a 14-day notice.

“Ultimately, our teachers want our kids in school,” Carpenter said. “They want them face-to-face and feel like it’s the best place for them. But if they have a medical reason, they want them to have that option if they need to.“

At the start of the school year in August, the ratio of face-to-face learners to virtual learners was 60 percent face-to-face and 40 percent virtual, Carpenter reported. As of mid-October, the ratio had shifted to 80-20, but as of Dec. 2, the ratio stood at 75-25.

At the secondary level, Carpenter noted that only 5 percent of students were truly full-time virtual learners, as most virtual learners come to campus multiple times per week for extracurricular activities and/or required face-to-face courses.

Carpenter and MISD director of human resources Dr. Shorr Heathcote also provided an update on COVID-19’s effect on staff, which has created a shortage of teachers and substitutes in recent weeks because of required 14-day quarantines due to close contacts.

Carpenter said she was hopeful the TEA will allow this quarantine period to be shortened to seven to 10 days, which will help staffing greatly. Heathcote praised all department personnel in the district for going “above and beyond the call of duty” to keep the district operational.

Carpenter proposed options for compensating staff for their extra work for the board to consider at its regularly-scheduled monthly meeting, which is slated for Monday night, Dec. 14.

In other items, deputy superintendent Judy Walling presented an overview of the district’s strategic plan in regard to academics. Five performance objectives, and strategies for each objective, were outlined, and Nikki Nix, MISD director of secondary learning, provided more details.