Northside Independent School District will begin class remotely on Aug. 24 and won’t resume in-person class until at least the Tuesday after Labor Day, the district announced Thursday.

North East ISD will also begin class entirely remotely for a minimum of the first three weeks of the school year.

Together, the two districts educate more than 160,000 students in San Antonio. Northside is the fourth-largest school district in Texas and North East is also among the State’s largest districts. With their announcements, it is likely other local districts will follow suit.

“Our plan meets TEA guidelines released last week, though we remain hopeful that the state will allow local school districts to make decisions based on the health conditions in their own communities,” Northside ISD Superintendent Brian Woods said in a statement. “We will continue to develop protocols for a return to school buildings and in-person instruction as soon as it is safe to do so. We know that in-person instruction is the best environment for most students and we will continue to work to provide that safely.”

In a letter to the NEISD community, Superintendent Sean Maika said remote learning will not be the same experience as it was in the spring.

“We provided additional training to teachers, beginning in May, to improve our quality of instruction through distance learning,” Maika wrote.

Texas Education Agency guidance currently permits districts to start their school year with three weeks of remote instruction as long as all students have access to a device or internet. In recent days, TEA officials and Gov. Greg Abbott hinted that this three-week window would be lengthened, although specific guidance has yet to be announced. That guidance is expected Friday.

Northside ISD will provide students with devices like tablets, Chromebooks, and Wi-Fi hotspots, to begin remote learning. NEISD also plans to offer assistance to families lacking any necessary remote-learning tools.

San Antonio ISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez announced earlier this week that SAISD would begin the year with three weeks of virtual instruction.

Texas law gives local health authorities, such as the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, the power to issue orders that close campuses. A TEA spokesman confirmed Wednesday that school districts could continue to receive funding by offering students remote instruction should their local health authority order their facilities closed.

Metro Health announced Wednesday night it would convene a task force of parents, students, teachers, teachers’ unions, school districts, universities, pediatricians, and public health professionals to make recommendations on the safety of school reopenings.

The group will make their recommendations early next week at the latest, said Colleen Bridger, assistant city manager and interim Metro Health director.

On Wednesday, the Bexar County School Board Coalition, comprised of trustees from 20 area school districts, wrote to Gov. Greg Abbott to ask for flexibility to decide how their schools should open. 

“Allow Boards of Trustees to determine any timelines associated with school openings so that they can quickly adapt to changing circumstances,” the letter stated. “Specifically, Trustees need the ability to determine the starting and length of time for the instructional options selected.”

The letter’s author, Northside ISD trustee Bobby Blount, underscored the need for San Antonio’s most vulnerable districts, where the virus is spreading quickly, to operate fully online for significant periods of time during the year. The coalition would like to see the time frame schools are allowed to conduct online-only instruction extended or removed altogether, he said.

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.