How well are Plano’s public school officials serving the needs of local parents and high school students?

On August 18, the Plano Independent School District Board of Trustees voted to request a waiver from the Texas Education Agency allowing our 9th-12th grade students to receive a “hybrid” of 40 percent on-campus and 60 percent online instruction when state-mandated face-to-face learning resumed on September 9.

Parents were sent a survey in July to sign up for either the at-home option or the in-school option. At the end of the survey, 47 percent signed up for their students to attend face-to-face classes five days a week.

There was not an option for the hybrid model in the survey. The parents and students were not notified that it would be an option. At that time, the TEA had not decided to fund the hybrid model. When the ISD received notification the hybrid model would be funded, the only option mandated to the students was hybrid.

Funding over education? The ramifications of this arbitrary decision without parental input is devastating. High school students are only allowed to attend school on-campus and have teachers two days a week. The rest is at home, asynchronous. Without an educator. On their own.

The students receive 40 percent instruction. Students can attend sports, band, and extracurricular activities five days a week but are not allowed to attend educational classes—high school students taking classes required for graduation!

An eighth-grade student taking high school classes is allowed to attend face-to-face classes five days a week at the middle school, but not a 9th-12th grade student. That is not equal access.

There are mental health ramifications also. The students are alone at home, no interaction with school but a computer screen. The mental stress of asynchronous schoolwork is terrible. I have read of two suicides of Plano students due to isolation this week alone. This is unacceptable. This is a mental health tragedy.

High school students need their teachers just as much as K-8. Students need their peers. They need their community. The needs of the students should be paramount in the decisions Plano ISD makes.

Plano ISD has a policy for parental choice. The parents of the 47 percent of students who signed up for face-to-face instruction did not have a choice when the hybrid model was mandated. Grades K-8 returned to five days face-to-face if they selected that option. Parental choice was given to those grades but withdrawn from 9th-12th grade students.

We as parents were told this hybrid waiver would later come to a vote at the end of the first grading period. Yet the PISD board mandated the extension of the hybrid model for another nine weeks on September 17. Again, there was no choice, no vote, no equal consideration for these students.

PISD denies the claim that the parental choice policy was violated. To be clear, not one parent chose hybrid, as it was not an option. As the board President Tammy Richards stated in the August 13 work session, “the hybrid model was precluded as a choice, and [I’m] glad to see it come back.”

Allen, Frisco, McKinney, Prosper, Wylie, and Highland Park public schools have returned back to school with the face-to-face option for all students, including grades 9-12. Instead of leading and advancing our students, Plano ISD has reduced teacher-driven education by 60 percent and harmed students’ mental and educational health.

This is not the first time Plano ISD arbitrarily made decisions that affected the high school students.

In March 2019, high school parents found out that Plano had removed the honors designations to music programs. Parents organized a petition and protested this move. Fortunately, they were able to succeed in their cause.

The lack of communication and parental input on decisions that affect students is egregious.

Once again, a group of parents have organized to create a dialogue with the board on the hybrid high school issue. We have protested in front of the school twice. We have sent countless emails. We have filed formal grievances with PISD and TEA.

We have been met with countless incidents of misinformation, stonewalling, disregard for the concerns of parents, even district-wide emails stating that the protest was a non-issue. We were told through various emails that the board had received only two complaints from parents about the mandatory hybrid plan and its extension, though we have emails and public comments at board meetings that disprove that claim.

PISD has denied the claim that the parental choice policy was violated. Yet not one parent chose hybrid as it was never a choice given—again, admitted by the board president. We have now created a petition called No to Hybrid High School for Plano Students, so the 7,743 high school students whose voices have been dismissed can be heard.

Our petition asks Plano school board members and administrators to put the educational needs of the students first and allow our kids the choice they and their parents made for five days a week of face-to-face education with teachers—100 percent of the education they asked for and are entitled to receive.

We will be circulating this petition online. Parents have volunteered to walk the neighborhoods and school parking lots to make parents aware of this petition for written signatures.

Plano ISD’s board meets again on October 6, and we plan to present again the voices of the students and parents that they are disregarding and to hold the board accountable. For the mental and educational health of our students, we need to say No to Hybrid High School.

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Semida Voicu

Semida Voicu is a Plano resident and parent of five. Three of her children are Plano ISD students; two are in high school.