KISD trustees defer decision on KVA extension

By George Slaughter, Special to the Katy Times
Posted 9/29/21

The Katy Independent School District Board of Trustees Monday deferred a decision on whether to extend the Katy Virtual Academy to the end of the fall semester.

Trustees will take up the issue …

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KISD trustees defer decision on KVA extension

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The Katy Independent School District Board of Trustees Monday deferred a decision on whether to extend the Katy Virtual Academy to the end of the fall semester.

Trustees will take up the issue again at a special workshop set for next Monday afternoon.

The decision to defer came after an intense, hour-long discussion in which two trustees expressed concerns that there wasn’t enough time for the board to get and assimilate all the necessary information to make a decision.

Trustee Dawn Champagne said she’d like to see the board return to its former practice of meeting twice a month.

“It would aid some of us in the decision-making process,” Champagne said, adding that the next meeting is set for after Oct. 15, which is when the Katy Virtual Academy is slated to end.

Trustee Rebecca Fox agreed with Champagne about the two board meetings a month.

“This is long, it’s intense, we’ve gotten a lot of information to assimilate and make a decision right now and I don’t know that I’m there,” Fox said.

Champagne said teachers have told her that Katy Virtual Academy students can be disruptive when they return to the in-person learning environment.

“If we vote to extend, then some of the teachers are going to leave and we already have a teacher shortage,” Champagne said.

The district reestablished virtual learning in August for kindergarten through sixth-grade students who preferred virtual learning to in-person learning with no vaccines available for students their age.

The district at that time set virtual learning to end by Oct. 15, with everyone returning to in-person learning. Leslie Haack, deputy superintendent, said the substitute teachers hired to lead the classes were brought on with the hope and intention that a vaccine would be available, but that has not been the case.

The proposed extension would have enabled virtual students to continue virtual learning until the end of the fall semester on Dec. 17.

All students return to in-person learning on Jan. 4, following the year-end holiday break.

Haack said two factors influenced the district’s recommendation to extend virtual learning. One was the Texas Legislature approving the necessary funding for online students. The second was vaccines for students ages 11 and under remain unavailable.

As of Monday, the district reported 500 active COVID-19 cases. Of these, 445 were students and 55 were staff. The district reported it had 3,980 cumulative cases since June 1.

To break these numbers down further, the district said there are 280 active COVID-19 cases in elementary schools, 251 of which are students, and 29 are staff.

The district said there are 117 active COVID-19 cases in junior high schools, 109 of which are students, and eight are staff.

The district said there are 96 active COVID-19 cases in high schools, 80 of which are students, and 11 are staff.

Haack said Katy Virtual Academy began with an enrollment of 4,191 in August. That enrollment has dropped 15% to 3,555 students as of Monday. She said the figure has dropped as parents request that their children be transferred back into in-person learning.

Asked by school board president Greg Schulte why students were returning to in-person learning, Haack cited several reasons. She said the Katy Virtual Academy was “not what it was last year,” without all the “bells and whistles” as before. She also said the Katy Virtual Academy was not tied to a particular campus as it was last year. Additionally, parents wanted to make sure schools stayed open, and there were concerns about not having a mask mandate.

The district encourages, but does not require, students to wear masks on campus.

While the Katy Virtual Academy enrollment has dropped, Haack said the overall enrollment has increased. On August 18, she said, the district had 85,061 students enrolled. As of Monday, she said that number had increased 4% to 88,552. Haack said that figure was above projections.

Haack said a priority for the Katy Virtual Academy was to continue with a centralized online learning model to minimize the impact on campuses and in-person learning.

Upon request, Haack said, students can return to in-person learning at their home campus. Katy Virtual Academy seat capacity has been reduced as students return to in-person learning. This results in a smaller Katy Virtual Academy class size.

Haack said Katy Virtual Academy students who return to in-person learning may not return to Katy Virtual Academy before the end of the fall semester.

“When they make the commitment to return to in-person, they remain in person,” Haack said.

Haack also said the Katy Virtual Academy administrative team continues to contact students at risk of academic success to return to in-person learning.

Fox praised the district’s efforts to make things work in the online environment, but she felt the students learn best in a face-to-face environment.

“We want our families to bring the children back to school,” Fox said.

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