ABILENE, Texas — Abilene and Wylie independent school districts announced at a press conference Wednesday that schools will be closed for an indefinite period of time.

According to a press release, the district is closing out of an abundance of caution because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic moving across the globe.

The release said if the districts re-open before the scheduled end of the 2019-2020 school year (Friday, May 22, is the scheduled last day of classes), parents and staff would be notified approximately one week in advance of a potential re-opening.

However, parents and staff need to be ready for a lengthy closure.

“What has become abundantly clear to all of us who have been part of conference calls with Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath as well as medical professionals and other health agencies is that we’re all in this for the long haul,” Dr. Young said. “The best way to fight exposure or spread of the virus is by practicing social distancing, working from home as much as possible and not putting anyone in large groups where the virus could easily spread.,” Dr. David Young, AISD superintendent said.

“While we are closed indefinitely, that doesn’t mean that at some point we couldn’t return to campuses this school year,” Young said. “Having said that, I think we all need to prepare for the most significant outcome and that could mean that our school year has, effectively, ended.”

The district’s curriculum and instruction team, as well as instructional technology specialists and technology department personnel have been working since Monday to get an online instruction platform running. The website – which links off the AISD homepage – is live and should be significantly populated by Monday.

“Just a few days ago when I asked (associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction) Dr. Dan Dukes where we were in our ability to deliver online instruction, he said ‘we’re nowhere,” Young said in the release. “Today we have teachers throughout the district – in compliance with directives and guidance from our city government and the CDC – putting together lesson plans and we will begin online instruction for grades Pre-K through 12 Monday morning. I am in awe of the work that’s been put in to get this up and running in such a short amount of time by so many people.”

Online assignments will be updated every week during the shutdown, but none of the work will be graded, with Young calling them “optional” for students.

“We certainly hope students will take advantage of the opportunity to continue their education online so we don’t have major gaps as we move into next year, but these assignments will not be graded,” Young said. “We strongly encourage the online learning website and we are making it available and easy to access through our homepage abileneisd.org.”

Here is the rest of the release from AISD:

Students that don’t have access to computers can check out district-owned Chromebooks from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Thursday and Friday at both Bowie and Johnston elementary schools. Each household in the district is limited to one Chromebook, and a parent or someone on the contact list for a student in the home must be present for children from Pre-K through 8th grade to pick up a device. High school students don’t need a parent for pick-up but must show their AISD student ID to check out a device.

Students that don’t have internet access need to call 211 for more information. Additionally, the AISD is taking some steps to get mobile hot spots in place throughout the city.

During the closure, the AISD will continue providing free breakfast and lunch to all children 18 and under beginning Tuesday. Breakfast – which includes cereal, milk and juice – will be served from 7-9 a.m. and can be picked up in drive-thru fashion at one of seven sites in the district (Martinez, Johnston and Bowie elementary schools, and Clack, Craig, Madison and Mann middle schools).

Lunch service will be 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at the same sites and will be a ham and cheese sandwich on a croissant, individually packaged carrots and apples and milk. Only children who are in the vehicle at the time of pickup will be allowed to get a meal. All children in the vehicle – whether on free-and-reduced lunch or not – will be allowed to get a meal.

The district has also set up a help line for parents or students to call, and the number is 325-794-AISD. The district will be giving support to callers asking about various subjects from information on student login information to social or emotional health support services.

“We will not re-open schools unless two conditions are met: 1). Our student and staff populations have been properly screened and we believe we can re-open safely; and 2). We are 100 percent ready to move forward with a logistically sound plan to meet the needs of our students and our community,” Dr. Young said. “Every decision we make is based on what we believe is in the best interests of our students, families, staff and our community. The situation we find ourselves in right now is something none of us have ever seen, and I would ask for everyone’s patience as we navigate through the next weeks together.”

For more information, please refer to https://www.abileneisd.org/coronavirus, or for state-wide information, refer to tea.texas.gov/coronavirus  or https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.