Three of San Antonio’s largest public school districts announced classes would be canceled next week and spring break would be extended as efforts to avoid a coronavirus spread intensify.

Districts that have confirmed they will extend spring break through March 23 include: North East ISD, Northside ISD, San Antonio ISD, Alamo Heights ISD, East Central ISD, Fort Sam Houston ISD, Judson ISD, South San Antonio ISD, Southwest ISD, Edgewood ISD, Somerset ISD, Harlandale ISD, Lackland ISD, Randolph Field ISD, and Southside ISD.

The University Interscholastic League, which governs public school sports and other extracurricular activities, said Friday all sanctioned activities would be suspended until March 29.

IDEA Public Schools, KIPP Texas, and Great Hearts Texas, which are public charter schools, also announced an extended spring break. Pre-K 4 SA said it would be closed the week of March 16. Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of San Antonio will close for students through Friday, April 3, with classes being conducted remotely beginning March 23.

Spring break for most area public school districts was originally was scheduled to run through Friday, with students returning to schools on Monday.

“We do not make this decision lightly,” Northside ISD Superintendent Brian Woods wrote in a letter to district families. “I fully realize it presents significant difficulties to working parents who have young, school-aged children. But we are hopeful that these measures will better ensure the long-term health and safety of children, staff, and the larger community.”

Bexar County on Friday confirmed the first case of coronavirus outside the federal quarantine at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. A local resident contracted the disease outside San Antonio, according to City of San Antonio officials. Also on Friday, Mayor Ron Nirenberg issued a public health emergency declaration and prohibited large gatherings as Gov. Greg Abbott declared a statewide public health disaster.

Texas Education Agency leaders sent a letter to school districts Thursday to provide guidance on how districts should proceed. In the letter, the TEA reiterated the agency doesn’t have the authority to close schools for matters related to health; that authority lies with the local health authority, Department of State Health Services, and the governor of Texas.

Should a school district’s superintendent choose to cancel classes, the district would likely be required to make up the first two canceled days with makeup days or by tacking on additional instructional time. If classes are canceled for more than two days, a district could seek a waiver from the TEA. The agency indicated these waivers would be granted as long as districts commit to supporting students instructionally while at home.

The TEA asked districts to “meticulously document funding and resources expended for COVID-19 related activities and services, as funding sources that may become availably may operate on a reimbursement model or be funded based on documented costs.”

The education agency advised districts looking into remote learning to explore both online learning and less technology-intensive solutions like workbooks and worksheets. The TEA stressed that districts pursuing online learning should ensure that all students in the district have access to required materials and are supported based on their individual needs. TEA also asked districts to consider the students who receive their meals from school.

In San Antonio, both internet access and school meals play a large role in students’ daily life: Roughly one in four San Antonians lacks a high-speed internet connection at home, and in many districts, students depend on their schools to provide at least two meals each day.

The Texas Department of Agriculture announced Friday evening that the U.S. Department of Agriculture granted the department the ability to have schools continue serving meals through closures. Any school wishing to provide meals after closure has to apply through the Texas Department of Agriculture to serve meals.

IDEA Public Schools announced it would provide breakfast and lunch for families and staff who need food, beginning March 23. The charter school system also announced it would provide free weekday childcare at specific campuses for IDEA parents working in health and safety jobs.

Class delays and disruptions could affect scheduled standardized tests, slated to begin April 7. These tests are a key factor in the State grading system, which awards each campus and district letter grades. If a campus receives enough failing grades in a row, the school could be under threat of forced closure. Ogden Academy in San Antonio ISD received its sixth failing grade last year, placing immense pressure on student performance on standardized exams this spring.

TEA officials said they would review logistical options for testing, stating there is far more flexibility in online testing versus paper exams.

“At this point, districts and charters who anticipate the possibility of being closed on a testing date should begin planning for the possibility of scaling up online assessment in the event alternative testing dates might be required,” the TEA letter stated.

On Wednesday, San Antonio institutions of higher education announced the extension of spring break for students and schools told students instruction would move online when classes resumed. Trinity University, where most students live on campus, adopted the strictest policy changes, closing campus for the rest of the semester and asking students to move out of their dorms.

On Thursday, schools in Washington state, Ohio, Maryland, Kentucky announced closures and late Thursday afternoon, districts in Houston did the same.

School districts in other areas of the state also are grappling with how best to adapt to the presence of coronavirus in their communities. Most school districts in Houston announced extended spring breaks and Austin ISD announced schools would close Friday after presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 were confirmed.

Districts in Houston pledged to offer free meals to students in need during the canceled school days.

Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the Rivard Report.