Some Houston area school districts to allow virtual learning option amid COVID surge, outcry from parents

Districts pivot despite lack of state funding, staff

With the rise in COVID numbers, some schools are now offering virtual learning in the fall

HOUSTON – With the rise in COVID-19 cases and the Delta variant, many parents of school-aged children, especially those who are too young to be vaccinated, are pleading for a virtual learning option.

Lamar Consolidated Independent School District posted an update on its website Friday saying it was “researching virtual learning options for a limited number of students for the 2021-2022 school year and will provide more information soon.”

Conroe ISD announced Friday it would offer a limited, one-semester-only virtual program for students in grades PreK-6. Parents must apply by Tuesday at 5 p.m.

“The reason we are starting this program up is because of those students who have not yet had a chance to be vaccinated, and the current COVID levels in our community,” Conroe superintendent Dr. Curtis Null said in a video recorded statement on the district’s website.

Null explained the district’s decision to move forward, despite a lack of funding from the state.

“I actually had the opportunity to have a 30-minute personal, one on one phone call with the commissioner of education, Mike Morath, on Tuesday evening. I pled once again for them to consider allowing us to have virtual schooling. And once again, that fell on deaf ears,” Null said.

Jackie Anderson, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, hopes Houston ISD follows suit and provides a virtual option.

“But I do want to make it clear. If there is a virtual option, we do not want a hybrid option. It needs to be completely virtual. We know that the hybrid model did not work. It was very difficult for our students, and very difficult for our teachers,” she said.

A spokesperson for Houston ISD told KPRC 2 News with the rapidly changing situation, they were not yet ready to speak on virtual learning but hoped to have an official plan out by Friday.

Alief ISD Superintendent H.D. Chambers said he hasn’t heard from parents wanting a virtual option, but says providing it would be challenging due to a staffing shortage.

“I mean teachers, people that can actually educate students in a virtual environment. That is a significant challenge that we’re going to have, and we’re having it now and we’re going to have it for the foreseeable future,” he said.

Cypress-Fairbanks ISD said their temporary virtual program will serve grades K-6th grade students, and will last “at least through the first grading period.” Virtual seats will be limited. Students in special circumstances will be prioritized.

Fort Bend ISD will launch its virtual learning program on August 30 for pre-K through 6th grade, for a semester. Students 12 and up who are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccination cannot participate in the program.

Humble ISD said it will continue to offer a virtual option, and that 2,000 or so students had signed up. The deadline has passed, but you can sign up for the waiting list.

The deadline to sign up for virtual learning at Conroe ISD is Tuesday; Cy-Fair ISD’s deadline is Thursday, and Fort Bend ISD’s is Friday. FBISD, by the way, said funding virtual school for a semester will end up costing the district $10.4 million.

Spring ISD and Clear Creek ISD told KPRC 2 they would follow the Texas Education Agency’s recent guidance allowing remote instruction for a total of up to 20 days to students who are ill, test positive or need to quarantine because they’re a close contact with someone who has COVID-19.

Some districts are now allowing virtual learning as an option amid the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the Houston area