*CORRECTION: This story originally stated that Julie Leonard's resignation was accepted. Leonard has not resigned, and the story is corrected.

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As a result of a Texas Commissioner of Education ruling and fearful of a drop in student enrollment, North Lamar ISD will not nix online enrollment for academically failing students as originally planned.

Districts now must decide whether to discontinue virtual learning altogether or continue to serve all students regardless of failing grades, as of an Oct. 15 Texas Education Agency rules revision. If a district discontinues online learning, students may enroll in another district that offers virtual learning.

Already suffering a drop of about 50 students because of students now attending homeschool and a drop in attendance because of Covid-19, the district could find itself with a budget deficit this year, Assistant Superintendent Leslie Watson told trustees at a Thursday night meeting.

Attendance is down to 94.84% from a normal attendance of 97%, Watson said, reminding trustees every 1% decrease costs the district roughly a quarter of a million dollars. Currently, TEA is using last year’s attendance to determine funding, but that hold-harmless provision will end at midterm unless the commissioner extends it for the year.

Watson’s report, along with the commissioner’s ruling on failing students, may have prompted trustees to continue virtual learning. The board heard a report about a plan for asynchronous instruction as approved byTexas Education Agency. Assistant Superintendent Angela Chadwick explained asynchronous instruction is not in real time, which allows teachers to post in-class lessons for online students to access at a later time.

Trustees also approved a resolution regarding on-campus assessments for remote learners, which requires students in the top 20% of high school classes to complete tests in person and on campus due to class rank determinations.

The decision to continue remote learning came after lengthy discussion.

Board president Jeff Martin questioned how many of the district’s almost 400 online students might be lost if the district discontinues virtual learning, to which Watson replied, “from 11% to 12%, according to what other districts have experienced after discontinuing online programs.”

Earlier in the meeting, Stewart commended staff for their dedication before recommending a $800 supplement for contract employees and $500 for non-contract workers. Trustees gave unanimous approval.

“I want our staff to know how much we appreciate the amount of time (they’re) pouring in and educating our students, not only online, but also in person,” Stewart said. “Our administration understands that there’s an intense level of stress on our team right now, and we want them to know how much we appreciate them.”

In other action, trustees heard from their attorney on an appeal of the Texas Comptroller Property Value study for 2020 and approved the renewal of cooperative agreements with Prairiland ISD and Chisum ISD for special education.

After a brief executive session, the board accepted the retirement of Chris Coker effective Jan. 22, 2021.

Mary Madewell is a staff writer for The Paris News. She can be reached at 903-785-6976 or at mary.madewell@theparisnews.com.

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