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Things to know as San Antonio kids head back to school

A science classroom at YWLA Primary during a meet-the-teacher event Aug. 9, 2019.
File Photo | Camille Phillips | Texas Public Radio

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After the Uvalde school shooting in May, safety is top of mind for families and educators as they start the new school year.

School leaders across San Antonio have sent letters and posted videos to show parents everything they’re doing to keep their kids safe.

They remind families to use their anonymous reporting services and tip lines if they see threats of violence on social media. And they promise that all school doors have been checked to make sure they’re working right.

In a letter to parents,Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City ISD Superintendent Clark Ealy said school staff will check both internal and external doors every day to ensure they’re locked. He said SCUC had also added fences around campus perimeters, including portables, converted school entrances into “secure vestibules,” and hired additional counselors and school resource officers.

Northside andNorth East ISD posted videos outlining their safety measures — Northside’s includes footage of how their secure vestibules work and how their police force patrols.

At a virtual town hall Wednesday,San Antonio ISD officials answered questions about both school security and health concerns. Deputy Superintendent Patti Salzmann said the district had set aside $40 million to make schools more secure this year.

“Of the $40 million spent to create safe and supportive Schools, $20 million is spent on mental health support services, with 98% of that spent on staff provide direct services to students,” said Salzmann. “Our team of counseling and mental health staff is 236 people strong.”

In response to a question about security at the district’s older buildings, Salzmann said the remaining $20 million would be split between school police and facilities.

“That's part of what those dollars are for: enhancing our buildings, enhancing our surveillance cameras, enhancing our security around our doors,” Salzmann said.

SAISD officials said they had conducted a thorough audit of all of the district’s doors and were finishing up repairs before the school year starts Tuesday, Aug. 16.

Edgewood ISD is hosting a school safety town hall at the Edgewood Theater of Performing Arts on Monday, Aug. 15.

Texas Public Radio is supported by contributors to the Education News Desk, including H-E-B Helping Here, Betty Stieren Kelso Foundation and Holly and Alston Beinhorn.

School lunches

Some San Antonio parents will have to take extra steps this year to make sure their kids get lunch.

For the first two years of the pandemic, the federal government relaxed school lunch rules so that ALL schools could provide students meals free of charge.

But the pre-pandemic rules are now back in place.

For districts with higher poverty rates, like Edgewood, Harlandale and San Antonio ISD, nothing has changed. They qualify for community eligibility, which means all students get free meals automatically.

Some districts, like Northside, North East and Judson ISDs, have community eligibility at some schools but not others.

Families in schools without community eligibility will have to apply for free or reduced cost meals or put money in their kids’ school lunch accounts once again.

School staffing

After a bumpy start last fall due to staffing shortages, San Antonio districts put extra effort in hiring this summer. They raised salaries, offered bonuses and held multiple job fairs, but some districts still have vacancies as the school year gets under way.

Officials at Edgewood ISD said they managed to fill their last five teacher positions two days before school started Aug. 8. Even before the pandemic, Edgewood spokesperson Keyhla Calderon-Lugo said Edgewood typically started the school year with about 10-15% of their teacher positions vacant. Districts — especially high-poverty districts — have long struggled to fill teacher positions in key areas like special education, bilingual education, and science and math.

But other districts are still looking for teachers among a nationwide staffing shortage. North East ISD started school Aug. 10 with about 180 teacher vacancies — more than double the number of vacancies NEISD had this time last year.

North East has also warned parents there may be delays at bus stops because drivers may have to drive multiple routes.

Some of the vacant teacher positions may be because districts have added positions in order to help students catch up on learning opportunities missed during remote instruction. They have a limited amount of time to spend federal funding earmarked for academic recovery in response to the pandemic.

But both state and national surveys show that teacher morale hit a low point during the 2021-2022 school year. Last spring, 70% of union members told the Texas State Teachers Association they were “seriously considering quitting the profession.”

More about the causes and consequences of low morale and the teacher shortage overallcan be heard on The Source.

This story may be updated.

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Camille Phillips can be reached at camille@tpr.org or on Instagram at camille.m.phillips. TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.