Dallas ISD optimistic about getting more students back in the classroom next school year

Three weeks after Dallas ISD announced 40% of its high school seniors weren’t on schedule to graduate, the district’s leadership said they are feeling optimistic.

No, not about those seniors. They are still basically in the same terrible situation, and 20% of all DISD high schoolers are unaccounted for.

But the district and its superintendent did not focus on that during the state of the district Wednesdsay. They wanted to focus on next year.

The district wants students back in the classroom by fall, and some upcoming spring events will look near normal.

DISD Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa said high school graduation, prom, and even athletic banquets will all take place in-person this year.

He said he's encouraged by the diminishing COVID-19 numbers and new guidance from the CDC.

Hinojosa said the goal is to incentivize all students to return to in-person learning come next school year.

The Dallas ISD State of the District looked a lot different this year.

"We're moving right along and then we run into a pandemic and our whole world changes," Hinojosa said.

The hour-long virtual event was pre-recorded at W.H. Anderson High School due to the pandemic.

A stark contrast to last year's in-person gala held at the Omni Hotel just weeks before Texas shut down.

Many DISD students haven't been back in the classroom since March 2020.

That could soon change.

"The expectation is everyone will be back for in-person in August," the superintendent said.

Nearly 41% of DISD students are still learning virtually.

Dr. Hinojosa had hoped that the campaign Finish Strong 21, geared towards getting high school students back to in-person learning come April 12, would have bolstered those numbers sooner.

"I'm a little disappointed we didn't get more back," Hinojosa said.

But he believes incentivizing students will begin to change the mindset.

"We want our kids to come back. We're going to give them their senior prom, their athletic banquets, graduating in-person. We're trying to motivate the behavior that we want so we're still trying to finish strong," Hinojosa said.

He added that the district will pay for prom and athletic banquets where there is a minimum attendance rate.

Graduating seniors will each be given four tickets to their in-person graduation ceremonies.

"Now, with the CDC guidelines, a few of them are going outdoors," Hinojosa said.

On Tuesday, the CDC relaxed its guidelines for small outdoor gatherings among people who are vaccinated and those who are not.

Dr. Hinojosa said that will help the district promote in-person summer programs, leading up to the start of the next school year.

"We're going to have enrichment the arts, we're going to have things to motivate the students to want to be there," the superintendent said.

Dr. Hinojosa said he knows some students may not feel comfortable returning to the classroom in August.

He said there's a couple of bills in the state legislature that, if passed, would allow for virtual education for small groups of children.