During a Monday Prosper ISD School Board meeting, Vice President Bill Beavers provided a much-anticipated update.
The district’s COVID subcommittee had met the previous Monday, he said, and members discussed COVID-19 and the district’s protocols.
“At no point in time in that meeting was a mask mandate advised for Prosper ISD,” Beavers said.
His statement was met with applause from attendees.
That reaction came after multiple community members addressed board members Monday night to speak both for and against implementing a mask requirement in schools.
After multiple people signed up to speak at Monday night’s meeting, PISD Superintendent Holly Ferguson spoke up about the district’s approach to the current school year.
“It’s a little bit of a different ballgame than what we were dealing with last year, as many of you are well aware, depending on ... no matter where you are on this issue,” she said.
While the previous school year started with a governor-implemented mask mandate and state funding waivers for online attendance, the 2021-22 school year began with neither measure in place.
On Monday, Ferguson said state testing results had shown some learning loss for Prosper ISD students, even if that loss hadn’t been as large as what was reported at regional and state levels.
“So one of the things that we talked about is the greatest opportunity for us to educate our students is to have them in person, because we learned once again that no one can replace the power of the teacher in the classroom with those students,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson said having students pop in and out of instruction and to different teachers wasn’t conducive to learning.
“What we stand for and what we’re in the business of is making sure that your children are educated at high levels,” she said, “and so in many instances, we felt that we were falling short for you as the community on what you were paying your taxes for and why you chose Prosper ISD.”
She added that the district was following guidelines from Gov. Greg Abbott but that it also had to constantly look at the data.
“I am here to tell you that through this COVID subcommittee work, we would not be doing our due diligence if we were not having ongoing conversations about the health and safety of our kids,” Ferguson said.
On Aug. 20, the district’s weekly eNewsletter included a message from Ferguson stating that COVID-19 numbers were increasing on campuses.
“We were aware that this would occur at the beginning of school,” Ferguson stated. “We have stayed in constant communication with our local health agencies, hospital personnel and EMS experts in our area.”
Ferguson’s message included an encouragement for district community members to “give a little more so we can keep our students in school.”
“We need to tighten up our mitigation strategies,” Ferguson stated. “We strongly encourage the mitigation measures listed in the graphic below.”
The graphic included encouraged measures such as health screening, hand washing, wearing face masks indoors and social distancing. Face coverings are optional for Prosper ISD students, staff and visitors.
Monday’s board meeting also featured calls from some attendees for a virtual schooling option. Ferguson said neighboring school districts had received more federal relief funding than PISD. With the federal relief money that Prosper ISD got, Ferguson said, the district would be able to hire about seven teachers.
“If I look at the data from last year, we had 108 teachers who were teaching fully virtual in an elementary setting,” Ferguson said. “108. And I have enough money for seven. So you can see where that challenge comes.”
She later said a virtual option would cost the district about $24 million.
“And as you’ve already shared tonight and you’ve heard, the state didn’t fund this, so $24 million coming out of our general fund, which are your tax dollars,” Ferguson told attendees.
Ferguson did address the implications of Texas Senate Bill 15, a bill from the second special session of the Texas Legislature that would allow public schools to offer local virtual learning options.
“If the state comes through with funding, we’ll make sure that we get those things in place,” Ferguson said.
However, she added, there’s no guarantee it would be a Prosper ISD teacher. Ferguson said Prosper ISD teachers had already been hired.
“And after this past year and the disruption that has occurred in our nation, not just in Prosper ISD, teachers have left the profession,” Ferguson said. “Some of our absolute best have walked out the door, and there was no way to keep them.”
They had chosen to get out of education, Ferguson said.
“So who I am left with who might even be someone that I could hire, I would tell you right now probably would not meet the standard of what you’re expecting as taxpayers and as parents for what you have come to know and love in our district,” Ferguson said.