Edgewood Independent School District has requested that 1,438 failing high school students return to in-person classes in January.
Edgewood Independent School District has requested that 1,438 failing high school students return to in-person classes in January. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Edgewood Independent School District is urging about 1,400 high school students learning remotely who are failing three or more classes to return to in-person instruction in January, at a time when other San Antonio districts are holding off bringing more students back to classrooms.

The recent rise in local coronavirus cases and an average positivity rate of 12.5 percent as of Dec. 11 spurred San Antonio ISD and Northside ISD officials to wait until after winter break to invite more students back to campus.

But Edgewood ISD Superintendent Eduardo Hernández said at a school board meeting Tuesday that the risk of students failing and seniors not graduating on time was too high for the district not to make failing remote learners return to in-person instruction on Jan. 13.

“The last thing we want is to have parents upset that students are not ready to graduate,” Hernández said.

Texas public schools can force students learning remotely to return to campus if they are struggling academically or not engaging in remote work, according to new guidance from the Texas Education Agency updated Dec. 10. School districts must give students and their families at least two weeks notice before requiring students to show up on campus, and families must have the opportunity to appeal the district’s decision for medical or other reasons. If requested, the district must meet – virtually or in person – with families who appeal.

If families do not appeal the district’s decision or if the district does not agree that the student can learn successfully from home, the school district can require the student to return to the classroom. Families can transfer their student to another district that offers remote instruction if they do not want their students to attend in person, according to the TEA guidance. That has always been an option for families because districts do not have to offer remote instruction, but they must provide in-person learning.

Edgewood ISD Deputy Superintendent Phillip Chavez told the school board that the average failure rate of sixth- through 12th-grade students was 46 percent for the second grading period, adding that this is a problem happening across Bexar County and the state.

“That is significant, and that is unheard of,” he said of the failure rate.

Students who are learning remotely are failing at a rate that will prevent many of them from meeting graduation requirements, including passing mandatory state exams, Chavez said. If students fall behind now, it can set them back years academically.

“It’s our moral obligation to provide every opportunity that we can to our students, specifically those who are failing at a higher rate,” he said.

The school district wants 1,438 high school students who are failing three or more classes to discontinue remote learning and come in person starting Jan. 13. That includes 730 students at Memorial High, 482 students at John F. Kennedy High, and 226 students at Edgewood Fine Arts Academy. The district had about 7,400 students enrolled as of Oct. 30, according to the TEA.

Edgewood ISD has already notified students and parents of the decision, Chavez said. The district is working with parents who have submitted medical exemptions or requested a meeting with school staff about the transition. Educators are developing learning agreements for students who will not be receiving in-person instruction so students know they are expected to participate fully in remote learning.

Hernández said a recent survey of students found that most wanted to return to in-person learning, which was what started the conversation about engaging families to send their students back on campus. He said he believes students will feel safe on campus once they see how the safety protocols, such as wearing masks and physically distancing, are working, and that could lead to more students choosing to return to school in person.

Edgewood ISD has COVID-19 testing available for students and staff through Community Labs and the state, Chavez said. As of Nov. 28, the average positivity rate in the district’s four zip codes was 5.5 percent.

San Antonio ISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez said at a board meeting Monday that the district will not bring more students back to campus until the county’s positivity rate drops into the single digits, although he knows many students are struggling with remote learning. If the district does allow more students on campus after winter break, they will be brought back in two-week intervals after the intersession week of Jan. 4, when most students will not be required to come to school. The intersession week is for teachers to work with students who are performing at the lowest level academically.

Martinez said San Antonio ISD had conducted more than 16,000 coronavirus tests through last week, with a positivity rate below 1 percent. The district plans to add more schools to its testing program, but right now testing is happening at the high schools, middle schools, academies, some elementary schools, and the central office.

Northside ISD Superintendent Brian Woods said at a school board meeting Tuesday that the school district of about 103,000 students would wait until after students return from winter break on Jan. 4 to determine if more will be allowed to switch to in-person instruction. A recent survey showed a small increase in the number of families wanting to send their students back to campus, mostly at the elementary level.

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Brooke Crum

Brooke Crum covered education for the San Antonio Report.