Superintendent Rene Gutierrez says the Brownsville Independent School District is getting closer to the day when it welcomes all students back to school for the kind of instruction that really works, in-person, face-to-face learning of the type that predates the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’d like for our parents to go visit their respective campuses and see how safe our schools really are,” Gutierrez said Thursday morning. “Our schools are safe. We are following the CDC protocols, but we need our students back in the classroom. We want to start increasing the number of students coming in for face-to-face learning.”

As of Thursday, that number stood at 14%, with everyone from the federal government down encouraging the schools to increase the number.

A big difference maker has been including all school staff among the priority groups for receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. To date, three-quarters of the BISD’s 7,000 employees have received at least their first vaccination, making it that much easier to get the schools open again.

At BISD, teachers have been teaching from their classrooms since Oct. 1, and BISD classrooms have been open for in-person learning to any student whose family requests that option since the Monday after Thanksgiving.

With the pandemic now more than a year old and vaccinations to be available to all adult Texans starting Monday, the hope now is that the pace of reopening picks up.

Eighth-grade English language arts teacher Maria Elena Abete explains the day’s work and prepares to go over the syllabus with her sixth period students using her laptop Aug. 25, 2020, on the first day of class at Stell Middle School. The Brownsville Independent School District began the school year with 100% distance learning until it is deemed safe for students to return to campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.(Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

Gutierrez said he hopes the district now transitions into face-to-face summer school for those who need it because in-person instruction is the best way to close the gaps caused by the pandemic and the inherent shortcomings in distance learning.

He said planning is already underway for graduation ceremonies for each high school at Sam’s Memorial Stadium and as many year-end activities as possible.

With all of the protocols, each graduate’s family last year received two tickets to graduation ceremonies. That number will probably double to four this year, he said.

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