ABILENE, Texas (PRESS RELEASE) – Abilene ISD Superintendent Dr. David Young and Abilene Wylie ISD Superintendent Joey Light announced Monday morning that both school districts will be closed to students and parents all week (March 16-20) and are scheduled to re-open on Monday, March 23. Both superintendents, however, said they would re-evaluate that re-opening date and make an announcement on the re-opening date by the end of the business day Wednesday.

Dr. Young and Light announced last Friday that the two districts would close campuses to their students March 16-18 out of an abundance of caution because of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that is moving across the globe. Both superintendents said at the press conference that their plans were to survey their respective staffs to determine where they might have traveled during Spring Break and screen them for potential exposure to the Coronavirus.

“Last Friday when we made the decision to close for three days to evaluate our staff and students, we both believed that was an appropriate response,” Dr. Young said. “However, just in the two days that have passed since that decision was made, the ever-changing nature of this pandemic has become evident to everyone.

“We had all been in Spring Break mode and believed we needed the days to evaluate and screen our staff and students to make a practical decision about when to return to school,” Dr. Young said. “After spending most of the weekend looking at the logistics of re-opening Thursday, both Joey and I agreed that remaining closed to students for the entire week would be the best course of action. We have begun working on a plan with our principals to return students to campus next Monday (March 23) unless otherwise mandated by federal or state agencies. However, we will be constantly monitoring our progress toward a Monday re-opening and will decide by Wednesday of this week if we need to remain closed through next week as well, knowing that additional closure might be required or necessary.”
The AISD will begin providing free breakfast and lunch to all children 18 and under beginning Tuesday. Breakfast – which includes cereal, milk and juice – will be served from 7-9 a.m. and can be picked up in drive-thru fashion at one of seven sites in the district (Martinez, Johnston and Bowie elementary schools, and Clack, Craig, Madison and Mann middle schools).

Lunch service will be 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at the same sites and will be a ham and cheese sandwich on a croissant, individually packaged carrots and apples and milk. Only children who are in the vehicle at the time of pickup will be allowed to get a meal. All children in the vehicle – whether on free-and-reduced lunch or not – will be allowed to get a meal.

The Wylie ISD is currently in the process of finalizing its plan to feed children and will be communicating that later Monday.

As he did in last week’s statement to the Abilene community, Dr. Young said neither school district is making decisions based on fear, but out of an abundance of caution and after consultation with several medical authorities in Abilene.

“Every decision we make is based on what we believe is in the best interests of both school districts and the Abilene community,” Dr. Young said. “Joey and I would both ask for patience as we all navigate through these next few weeks together, working toward our top priority of providing the safest learning environment possible for our students and staff.”

In Sunday afternoon’s conference call with superintendents and public-school leadership across the state, Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath told superintendents and state lawmakers to be prepared for long-term school district closures, potentially through the end of the school year, especially in areas where the Coronavirus has spread.

Morath stressed that those decisions on closure would be left up to local districts. However, as of Sunday afternoon’s conference call, 569 school systems around the state had shut down, the majority for 1-2 weeks. Nationwide, 30 states have announced that schools statewide are closing because of Coronavirus, including 11 states announcing on Sunday. The nation’s largest public-school system ¬– the New York City Public Schools system ¬¬– announced Sunday it was closing Monday (March 16) and wasn’t scheduled to re-open to students until at least Monday, April 20.

That followed on the heels of the closure of the nation’s second-largest public-school system – the Los Angeles Unified School District ¬¬– which announced Friday it would be closing for at least two weeks. Late last week, the Houston ISD ¬– the nation’s seventh-largest school district – announced it would be shut down through March 30.

“We will not re-open schools unless two conditions are met: 1). Our student and staff populations have been properly screened and we believe we can re-open safely; and 2). We are 100 percent ready to move forward with a logistically sound plan to meet the needs of our students with the staff members we will have in place,” Dr. Young said.

Morath also stressed on his phone call that safety of students is of paramount importance, and that sentiment is shared by Dr. Young and Light.

“I want to emphasize to parents that even if we re-open next Monday and they don’t feel comfortable sending their child to school, we will fully support their decision to not send them,” Dr. Young said. “None of those absences – whether it’s one day, 10 days or the remainder of the school year ¬– will count against them. The health and safety of our students in this scenario is of the utmost importance.”

The suspension of school for the rest of the week extends the suspension of all practices and competitions for all student activities, both co-curricular and extra-curricular to include athletics. All scheduled field trips for the week have also been cancelled, and the district’s Hiring Fair – schedule for Saturday, March 21 – has been postponed with the possibility of providing an alternate method of hiring for our staffing needs in 2020-21.

Sunday night, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a guidance suggesting that organizers cancel or postpone any in-person events that include 50 people or more scheduled for the next eight weeks. That guidance was only a recommendation, however, and did not pertain to schools or businesses. However, both school districts are doing their best to emphasize social distancing and comply with the CDC recommendations as they transition during this period of closure.

“Joey and I understand that there are still many questions out there about how all of this is going to come together,” Dr. Young said. “Unfortunately, we’re building this airplane while we’re flying it. Our administrative leadership groups are working hard to get the answers we’re all seeking in these uncertain times. Our main goal in all of this is the safety and well-being of the Abilene and Wylie school districts, as well as the Abilene community as whole. We are deeply committed to that, and I assure you that every decision we make will be guided by that priority.”

For more information, please refer to https://www.abileneisd.org/coronavirus, or for state-wide information, refer to tea.texas.gov/coronavirus or https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

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