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'It's different' | Houston-area school districts anticipating remote learning challenges

Some are calling for more specific guidance from health officials.

HOUSTON — Getting ready for the new year during the COVID-19 pandemic meant waiting in a very long line Wednesday as thousands of families got free back-to-school supplies ahead of an Aug. 17 start date in Aldine ISD.

"We're glad that they're giving us things that we need," one parent said.

Meanwhile, preparations in Alief ISD are over as remote classes begin on Thursday.

"Education is a people, in-person business," said Alief ISD Superintendent HD Chambers. "And when you don't do that, it's different, to say the least."

Chambers said the district worked over the summer to make sure more than 45,000 students are as connected as possible by ordering scores of new laptops and WiFi devices.

But not having them physically present in school buildings is definitely not ideal.

"I think we're all concerned about students missing out," Chambers said. "And we’re going to have to work twice as hard in trying to maintain their learning so that when we do come back for in-person that the long gaps that have evolved over the last four or five months are not going to be wider than they have to be.”

He’d like more specific guidance from health officials about how soon reopening schools might happen.

That's something Klein ISD superintendent Jenny McGown also addressed in a video message to families.

"We need to feel confident in safely bringing our students and staff back together on campus," McGown said. "We need to know what 'safe' is.”

In a statement, Harris County Public Health said its working to establish metrics for local school districts so that they can reopen safely. The department said it will provide guidelines and other key information in the near future.

Chambers believes kids may be back in schools in the not-so-distant future if everyone does their part.

"While we may not be able to bring every student back, we can begin to bring students back for in-person instruction,” Chambers said.

Here's Harris County Public Health's full statement:

“Our top priority remains the health and well-being of students, faculty and staff. However, based on the information we have at this time, we do not recommend schools reopen for in person activities.

We've been in regular communication with education leaders throughout Harris County and are working now to establish metrics for our ISDs so that they can reopen safely. We are currently working with the County Judge's Office and the City of Houston Health Department and will provide guidelines, metrics and other key information in the very near future.”

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