There was a time when back-to-school meant notebooks, new shoes and bracing for hot August days.
Now it’s Chromebooks, new masks and bracing for any upticks of coronavirus spread.
Welcome to the start of classes for Williamson County Schools, version COVID-19. First- and second-grade students will be attending classrooms in person when the 2020-21 school year begins Friday morning, while students in grades 3-12 will be at home learning virtually for at least the first two weeks. Kindergartners return Aug. 17.
Students, teachers and parents are all making adjustments to this new world of education.
“Even though this year will be like no other we’ve experienced, we are ready,” WCS Superintendent Jason Golden said in a video released by the school district earlier this week. “We’ve spent countless hours learning and training for this fall. We have many new protocols in place that a year ago no one would have imagined.”
Those protocols are part of the reopening framework Golden presented last month after the Williamson County Board of Education had approved the basic plan. While around 17% of families with children enrolled in WCS schools chose the district’s Online Learning program that’s a curriculum of its own, the rest will either be on the various campuses or learning remotely at home, depending on the spread risk of the virus.
While attending in person, students and teachers must adhere to safety guidelines that include wearing masks and social distancing, among others.
The framework has already seen a backlash from at least a couple of parent or advocacy groups. One is Recall Williamson, a nonprofit group formed in July that stands against a mandate for wearing masks in schools and has started a petition to recall the county’s school board members.
Another is a grassroots organization that created a Facebook page called Back to School - Williamson County and has more than 4,000 members. It held a protest Tuesday afternoon in support of all students returning to classrooms throughout the 50 schools in WCS. Members are skeptical that virtual learning will only last for the first couple of weeks.
“If we really believe that this was a two-week remote start, I don’t think people would be as upset,” said Kelly Jackson, one of the group’s organizers who spoke at the protest. “But because of their [the school district’s] track record in the past and the responses — or the nonresponses — we’ve gotten from Jason Golden and the district, it’s been very patronizing. There have been no real answers. That doesn’t help us. We need to know what’s going on, we need a definitive date, and that they’re not going to keep extending it and extending it.”
Below are notes of interest from the WCS newsletter InFocus.
Meal kits available for students staying home
Students in grades 3-12 who are beginning the year remotely and students who are participating in WCS Online may still purchase school breakfasts and lunches by ordering a weekly meal kit.
The kit will contain five complete breakfasts and five complete lunches as well as reheating instructions.
Parents who wish to participate need to preorder their meals. Prices will vary depending on each family's status of free, reduced or full pay. Pricing information is available on the meal kit order form.
Each school will handle distribution differently. Some schools may only distribute to their students, but other areas may have one school act as a central pickup location. Parents will be able to select a school where they would like to pick up their meal kits.
Be watchful for changes in bus routes
Parents should check their child's bus route information before Friday as elementary bus times have changed over the past week, and it's important that families remain up-to-date.
In addition, WCS is working to implement a new app to track buses, Stopfinder. The former app, SafeStop, is no longer operating.
Once the app is implemented, families will receive an invitation to register for Stopfinder. Using the app, parents may allow other family members to subscribe to their student's account. Stopfinder will display student transportation information and allow parents to receive push notifications. Parents will also be able to communicate directly with the WCS Transportation Department.
Additional features will also be available soon.
"Later in the fall, the feature to track the bus on the app will be enabled," WCS Planning and Zoning Manager Allison Nunley said. "Parents can create an area on the map and be notified when the bus enters that field. This helps parents know when to send their child out to the bus stop on cold or rainy mornings."
For more information about school zones and transportation, visit the WCS Bus Routes and School Zones page.
District is looking to hire
WCS is looking to hire school age child care (SACC) workers and substitute teachers for the 2020-21 school year.
“I leave work knowing I made a difference in the life of a child and supported a working parent," said SACC Director Leslie Weaver. "I am part of a caring team where I can contribute my skills and grow personally and professionally.”
The district is also looking to hire bus drivers, food service workers and special education teaching assistants.
To see job vacancies and to apply, visit the WCS Employment Page.