Start of School 2020-21

Statement of the Frankfort Independent Schools Board of Education

July 20, 2020
Panther Families and Stakeholders,

Frankfort Independent Schools is a resilient school system with a long history of rising to meet moments of challenge and adversity. As we face the latest such challenge with the COVID-19 pandemic, we are more committed than ever to our mission of transforming the lives of each child with unparalleled experiences and opportunities. This summer, the FIS Board of Education and Level 5 Leadership Team created the Re-Entry Task Force to engage families, staff, students, public health officials and community partners in developing recommendations for opening our school year with health and safety as the highest priority. The Task Force’s work was intensive and data-focused, and included expert input, careful study of guidance documents and data, and surveys of families, staff and students. The resulting recommendation to the FIS BOE Team was approved on July 7, and continues to provide a foundational “playbook” of how we navigate these uncharted waters safely.
Since the approval of the Task Force’s plan, the number of COVID-19 cases in the state has risen precipitously and a number of our FIS community members have also tested positive for COVID-19. In light of these developments, the FIS BOE Team voted tonight to delay the start of the school year to August 26, 2020.  

As we continue to plan for reopening in a rapidly-changing environment, our focus centers on re-imagining the future of how our school system supports students and families. At a time when so much is out of our control, we can and will ensure that teaching and learning continues regardless of circumstance. The calendar adjustment approved tonight allows us to move forward developing flexible, creative plans that will allow us to safely reach our students with the types of opportunities our community has come to expect from Frankfort Independent Schools. Some examples include having small group in-person extensions, authentic learning experiences that promote our FIS Profile of a Graduate, utilization of outdoor classrooms, internship experiences adapted to meet safety guidelines, and robust personalized social and emotional supports.
The re-imagining of schools is not something new to FIS. Our district is recognized nationally as a leader in self-directed and personalized learning. We intend to ramp up these efforts to provide even more robust opportunities for our students during the upcoming school year. 
The decision to move our start date to August 26 required tough and courageous conversations grounded in data. We recognize the importance of structure, routine, and providing equitable opportunities for each child in FIS. Given current trends with the pandemic, we know that we must be prepared to offer these opportunities through a “distance learning” format, and we ask that our families begin to prepare for that possibility. However, we do believe that some form of in-person learning is a critical need for many of our students and families, and as such we will continue to explore ways to deliver in-person instruction and opportunities that meet these needs while also protecting the health and safety of our students, staff and community. 
Meanwhile, we ask that all members of the FIS community follow recommended safety guidelines from federal, state and local public health officials. Doing so provides our best hope for getting students back in school safely.
Our FIS BOE Team understands that these are very challenging times for all in our community. We wish we could sit in your living rooms face to face to provide comfort to one another as uncertainty takes hold in our world. Professionally, this has been one of the most trying times in my career as a leader. And yet, our team continues to embrace the challenge and use it as an opportunity to shine. Personally, this situation continues to challenge my resiliency. Many of you know that I have witnessed one of my own children overcome a rare blood cancer through chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. I recall now how the blood, sweat, tears, anxiety, high and low emotions of that time proliferated and then eventually subsided as he made it to the other side. My son is one remarkable example of how to embrace life, fight through together and persevere.
Five years ago, my son and his two siblings joined the Panther family when I became superintendent of Frankfort Independent Schools. Since then, they have walked the hallowed halls of our two historic school buildings that have been the learning home for generations of families, including my own. While it grieves me to think that our children may not be able to return to our buildings right away, the truth is that it has always been our community - our students, families, staff and neighbors - that make FIS what it is. Our Panther community is what sets us apart, and our Panther community is what will allow us to come out of these difficult, uncertain times even stronger than we were when we entered them.
Thank you for your patience and commitment to this school district. We value your input and we appreciate your support as we work together to support our students. In the coming days, we will communicate more specifics on the opening of school on August 26, 2020. 
Houston Barber, PhD
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