Abbott closes schools for remainder of year

by Cristin Parker

Governor Greg Abbott on Friday, April 17, closed schools for the remainder of the year and began the process of reopening the state of Texas.

Texas schools have been closed since March 16, to help curtail the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). Under Friday’s Executive Order GA-16, schools — including public, private, and higher education institutions — will remain closed for the 2019-20 school year. Teachers may go into the classroom for video instruction, to perform administrative duties and to clean out their classrooms.

Throughout Friday afternoon, Cherokee County’s ISDs posted their plans for the duration of the regular academic year.

“Gov. Abbott has closed our classrooms for the remainder of the school year,” officials with Wells ISD posted on the district’s Facebook page. “Therefore, it is critical that teachers and students continue the educational activities as you have been doing through our remaining school days.

“We expect to receive clear instruction from TEA on graduation during the coming week. As we receive information, we will formulate plans with everyone involved to safely celebrate our graduating seniors and to have a successful school closing around the end of May.”

Over the weekend, Wells resident Brittney Coats post-ed a request on Facebook, inviting resident to sponsor a WISD senior for $25 in order to have signs featuring all 15 members of the class of 2020.

“I made a post this morning (April 19) on the (Wells News) community page requesting sponsors for the students in our graduating class,” she shared. “The post was up for nine minutes, y’all -- NINE MINUTES -- be-fore every single senior was sponsored.

“We’ve even had additional donations beyond the initial need that will go to Project Celebration. Maybe I’m just emotional these days, but I literally had to fight back tears.

“Our town is incredible!”

Sponsorship fees will go directly to the cost of making signs to be displayed on U.S. Highway 69, Coats explained, and each senior will be featured wearing their caps and gowns on the signs.

“Thank you so much for your help in showing these seniors that they are loved,” Coats posted.

Alto ISD officials shared, “With this announcement, AISD will continue our current procedures to provide educational and food services to our students through May 21, to complete the 2019-2020 school year. Please continue to follow our Facebook page and district website for the latest information.”

New Summerfield ISD officials also posted, “We will continue to provide information as needed. Thank you all for your patience during this time.”

JISD Public Information Coordinator Grace Traylor re-ported via email on Friday, “Following Governor Abbott’s Executive Order, Jacksonville ISD will remain closed to on-campus instruction through June 2.

“We will continue to provide educational materials online and in paper format through May 28.

“We will provide more information about summer activities and instruction as we receive more guidelines.

“Administrators are working on graduation plans and will announce more as soon as possible.”

Rusk ISD Superintendent Grey Burton reported RISD’s trustees discussed the matter, but took no action, during the district’s regular board meeting held Monday, April 20.

“We did talk about what to do for graduation,” Burton said Tuesday. “I’m in conference calls with the commissioner (of the Texas Education Agency) two times a week and we’re really just waiting to see what they say we can’t do, when they share their new guidelines at the end of this week.

“We’re hesitant to say we’ll push having a traditional ceremony back to later in the summer, because we just don’t know what the situation will be.

“In the meantime, I’m meeting with our high school principal and counselors this week and we’re looking at our other options, virtual and otherwise.”

New Summerfield ISD administrators shared, “We will continue to provide information as needed. Thank you all for your patience during this time.

“We plan to have a graduation ceremony at some point to honor our great group of seniors. As of right now, we are not sure when that will be. Caps and gowns should be delivered to the school soon and we will let you know when they can be picked up. We will post more information as it becomes available.”

NSISD posted on Monday, “Unfortunately, we will not be able to have prom this year. We had pushed the date back to May 9, but state guidelines will not allow us to have it then.

“We are sorry to the students that were looking forward to this special event and the in-convenience it has caused. #stayhornetstrong.”

Jacksonville College also made the tough decision to cancel its May commencement ceremony.

“We miss seeing you all on campus and are sorry that we are unable to gather for graduation,” the college posted. “Our prayers are with our graduates as they prepare for the next phase in their academic journeys.”

On a personal note, numerous local residents took to social media to express their thoughts on the governor’s edict.

Jacksonville High School teacher Jennifer Swedoski shared mixed feelings about the news, “Texas schools closed the rest of the year -- I expected it but it still made me cry. I want to get back to normal life. I don’t want to be in a school with 1,400 people every day. I have a high risk daughter at home and two high-risk parents. There’s just too much risk.”

Charlotte’s Web daycare operator Charlotte Ford posted a plea for her industry’s workers.

“Already knew it was going to happen... hate it -- prayers for the kids and teachers, sad moment...,” she shared. “Now I ask for prayers and kind words for daycare teachers as we try to keep some normalcy for schoolwork and activities for the next two months. These children don’t understand why we’re “making” them do schoolwork at daycare. We’re doing our best to help the parents out as they continue working... Love our job!!! Not complaining!!! Just asking for support and prayers.”

Executive Order GA-16 also allows for the “safe, strate-gic reopening of select services and activities in Texas.”

According to officials with the governor’s office, this portion of the order establishes a temporary “retail-to-go” model to allow retail outlets to reopen, beginning Friday, April 24, but requires reopened establishments to deliver items to customer’s cars, homes or other locations to minimize contact.

“Texans are battling a colossal challenge — an invisible enemy that has tested our lives and our livelihoods — but overcoming challenges is part of who we are as Texans,” Abbott said on Friday. “We have shown that Texas can continue our efforts to contain COVID-19 while also adopting safe standards that will allow us to begin the process of reopening Texas.

“By coming together, we can get Texans back to work, practice safe standards that will prevent the spread of COVID-19, and we can overcome this pandemic.”