Humble ISD broke new virtual ground, using innovation and technology to come together for the monthly school board meeting by hosting a virtual session Tuesday, March 24, to comply with social distancing orders released by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. The main action item on the agenda? A resolution in response to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), declaring an emergency.
A motion was made to adopt and approve the resolution of the Board of Trustees in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency and delegate authority to the superintendent, Dr. Elizabeth Fagen. The resolution declares “a state of emergency exists in Humble ISD as a result of the public health crisis and ratifies and adopts the Superintendent’s closure directive effective Thursday, March 12, 2020.” The closure, due to the quickly changing situation, does not have a permanent reopen date noted. Instead, the resolution states “the status of Humble ISD reopening campuses and facilities for normal operations, including in-person classroom instruction, remains fluid, is affected by information from state and local health officials that changes daily, and may result in providing educational services to students in a manner other than in-person instruction for an extended period of time.”
Fagen was given authority to apply for all waivers required by the Texas Education Agency for purposes of the provision of educational opportunities to students, as well as to apply for “all grant and similar aid programs available from federal, state, or local sources to assist the District in its response to the declared disaster.”
Besides authority to seek funds and waivers to help the students, the resolution also allows the district to “pay employees at their regular hourly or daily rate” during the time that campuses are closed due to COVID-19. Employees “required to report to work physically, or provide direct in-person services to children during the emergency closure period” were found to be at an “increased personal risk over and above the requirements normally performed in their assigned role” and as such will be compensated an additional “premium pay” that may consist of “additional pay, stipend, or compensatory time, and shall be at a rate up to and not to exceed twice the employee’s hourly rate, up to forty (40) hours per week, or $2,000 if paid by stipend.”
In addition to the business of making sure the right protocols and delegations were in place to endure the pandemic, the school board members also wanted to acknowledge and thank Fagen and others in the district for their efforts during this challenging time.
Boardmember Robert Sitton addressed Fagen, saying, “You and your team have been incredible through all of this. All of our food service personnel have been incredible through this. Our police force has been incredible through this. But as a parent of a senior and a seventh grader, the work that our teachers and staff have been doing to get educational materials, electronic and via paper form, to our students is phenomenal. I want to send a special thank you to Dave Martin, our former trustee in the City of Houston and Harris County, and Dan Huberty and what he is doing.”
Boardmember Angela Conrad echoed Sitton, saying how ‘’proud” she is “to be a part of Humble ISD.” Conrad continued, “I couldn’t be more proud of our administration, staff, and community members.”
Martina Dixon shared that she has been “impressed” by all of the staff, and especially “the graciousness that the teachers have given and the learning opportunities they are using to keep the children engaged.”
In addition to the administration and teachers, Keith Lapeze also gave a shout out to the food service employees before encouraging that “We’re all in this together.”
Board President Nancy Morrison added more encouragement, saying, “I just want to say a huge thank you. Dr. Fagen, you are boots on the ground. You are everywhere. Your staff is everywhere, doing everything imaginable for our kids. The Zoom lessons, parades through the neighborhoods, the cafeteria staff, our first responders, we cannot thank your staff and you enough. If I could make a shirt ‘boots on the ground, Dr. Fagen’ I’d do it right now.”
Fagen addressed the board during comments from the administration. She began by thanking the board members for their “kind words” and boomeranging the encouragement back to them, saying, “We could not do what we do without your support.”
“We joke about the uneventful few years we’ve had here,” Fagen continued. “The hurricane and Imelda and now this. There is some good stuff out there and the leadership starts at the top. Our staff has stepped up in a role to meet the needs of 45,000 children in their homes and not on a minimalist level, but a personalized level.” Fagen. shared that the staff is working hard to make sure that every child is reached and connected with face to face, whether through Zoom or a car window.
According to Fagen, Councilman Dave Martin gave an approval of the elementary parades that had been started. “I talked to him and asked if the new orders meant we had to stop our elementary parades and he said absolutely not. So, you heard it first.” Fagen also celebrated the way the staff and community has come together to help each other by explaining how to use unfamiliar tools or even vendors and authors sharing their resources for free. “The whole notion of Humble ISD right now,” Fagen continued, “is that everybody is contributing to the new space in their own unique ways, using their own unique talents. We value every single one of those.”
Fagen also highlighted the food service program and how the staff has stepped up during this time. “While at first glance, someone might think no big deal, it is a huge deal. We tried a lot of different formats last week. We served over 42,000 meals in one day. Our food service workers are coming in, ordering food, making food, putting it in containers or bags, organizing it, moving it out to the curb, keeping it in warmers, and getting it to families. It’s a positive thing in our community and it’s a lot of work for our custodians, warehouse, transportation, food service, police, and others. And there is no one who isn’t smiling. We’re going to continue down this path and we are getting better every day.”
Fagen shared that the administration has already begun thinking about special ceremonies and special things within the district that may have to be done in a new or innovative way for this year. “The judge’s order restricts us to groups of 10. Whatever the orders that are in place at that time say, will factor what we can and cannot do. We are exploring open-air options. There are so many dynamics right now, but we are trying to pay attention to those things are special to everyone.
“Everybody is working very hard, and I am very proud of them.”
As of March 31, all after-school activities were canceled through April 30. Updated information can be found at humbleisd.net.