TSBVI Amidst a Pandemic

Authors: Emily Coleman, Superintendent, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI)

Keywords: remote learning, virtual instruction, in-person classes, internet access, Covid-19, student and employee safety, high-quality education, family support, consistent communication, empowering students, resiliency

Abstract: TSBVI’s Superintendent discusses how TSBVI shifted during the COVID-19 pandemic to remote learning and established goals for embarking on a new school year.

March 12, 2020, was the last time we had students on our campus during the 2019-2020 school year. Like schools across Texas, we made a fast shift to remote learning. Through the spring, we hosted over 12,000 Zoom meetings and provided over 15,000 hours of instruction. We held virtual events like prom, graduation, and a spring play. We provided professional development through Outreach “Coffee Hours” and family support groups called “Texas Families Together” (TFT). We held virtual summer school with over 100 participants, all of whom don’t attend TSBVI during the school year.

As we move through the 2020-2021 school year, we continue to increase our remote learning knowledge and skills through training and curriculum development. We are providing devices and internet access to families and improving on what we accomplished in the spring. Our first day of school was August 17th, and we began our school year 100% remotely. Our first group of students returned for on-campus instruction on September 13th and we plan to keep bringing more students back in the weeks following. Throughout the year, we’ll continue to offer remote instruction for any family or adult student who chooses.

I shared with our employees during our “Welcome Back” Zoom meeting that as an educational leader of a public school, my primary goal aligns with TSBVI’s vision, which includes providing high quality educational opportunities. To fully meet the educational needs of our students, we need them to be able to access our campus. We are seeing a national regression in learning across all populations and demographics, but it is most evident among students in special education. This fact speaks to the desire for so many of our families to return their children to school.

However, health and safety MUST come first. There are many obstacles and roadblocks to overcome when returning students to our campus. As we address each question, comment, and concern, it is through the lens of, “How can we get our students back?” “What can we do to keep them safe?” When we don’t have a safe solution, we then dig into our options. This is why we started our year doing remote instruction. It wasn’t our first choice, but we know it was our safest choice.

Whether our students are remote or in-person, we must continue to empower them. We will continue to honor their social-emotional needs and contributions and not just their educational ones. We’re focused on strengthening our relationships. Students will need to be taught how to take charge of their personal safety, and we will work with their families to do just that. Students can also be responsible citizens.

As we embark on the new year, I have promised my devotion to four things and have encouraged my staff to do the same. The “four things” include student and employee safety, high-quality education in every setting, family support, and consistent communication. I look to our phenomenal employees to guide the path forward with those four goals in mind while offering up grace along the way. It will be a unique year and we will embrace opportunities to teach our students amidst a pandemic while celebrating their resiliency, and our own.

Please view this video that summarizes our response to COVID-19:

“We Are Where We Are Needed Most”

A mother of a student who is deafblind helps her son use sign language at home while his instructor models sign language to him from her home. When the student produces the sign, the mother signs “Yes!” and the instructor cheers him on!

A mother of a student helps him use sign language to communicate with his instructor from his home.

A young girl examines a variety of seeds on a plate while her science teacher and teaching assistant present a Zoom lesson.

A student participates in a virtual science lesson on seed germination.

A young man sits in front of a monitor, laughing at the image of his teacher on the screen during a Zoom lesson.

A student who is deafblind enjoys virtual instruction from his TSBVI speech language pathologist.

A young man sits at a kitchen table smiling with his hands resting on a game adapted with tactile symbols. His father sits beside him and his instructor is on an iPad resting on the table.

A student participates in a game adapted with tactile symbols taught remotely with the support of his father.

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