Dallas ISD says summer school will be virtual, 'blended learning' likely for the fall

Dallas Independent School District said its students will not return to the classrooms during the summer and likely won’t return to school as normal in the fall.

Superintendent Michael Hinojosa gave an update Monday morning on the status of distance learning, graduation ceremonies, summer school and plans for the fall. He confirmed all summer school classes will be virtual.

The superintendent said the district will prioritize getting elementary school kids into classrooms first since they need the most supervision. That could mean using secondary buildings for the district's youngest students.

Hinojosa also said Dallas ISD is still planning to live-stream its graduation ceremonies even though some other school districts in the area have found ways to let seniors walk across the stage in person.

The superintendent said that with 37 high schools and nearly 9,000 graduating seniors, delaying or trying to plan in-person ceremonies that follow social distancing guidelines is just are logistically possible.

“This is probably the hardest decision I’ve had to make including the tornado decision earlier this year,” he said.

The district will provide all a cap and gown for all seniors, along with yard signs. Later this month, there will be an Ovation Day to recognize the students across the city.

“We know this has been tough on everybody, especially this class. The thing about this class, they were born right after 9/11. And how what our TJ seniors go through this year and now what the rest of our seniors go through this year. And it’s just an unfortunate situation but that’s kind of where we are,” Hinojosa said.

Looking to the start of the school year this fall, Hinojosa said Dallas ISD is examining three options.

Option A would be schools opening their doors as usual. Hinojosa called that option “highly doubtful.”

But Hinojosa also doubts it’ll be Option B, which is continued distance learning. The superintendent said he believes things will improve before the fall.

Option C will be some kind of blended learning opportunity that will depend on what state and health officials recommend is safe.

Some of the things the district must consider are how to follow social distancing guidelines in the classrooms, lunchrooms and even on a bus, as well as guidelines on proper cleaning, screening and personal protective equipment.

“Once we get the data in a couple of weeks, we’ll know how much of this will be a reality,” Hinojosa said. “We know that our past reality is over.”

Hinojosa says the district is working to figure out how to do everything from providing masks for 150,000 students to pre-screening students for temperatures.

The district is also working on a way to improve internet connectivity for students across the city. Dallas ranks 6th in a list of most households without broadband internet access.

Hinojosa said all families that have requested a mobile hotspot now have one, but he called it a temporary solution. He wants a solution that provides broadband access for all.

“Having broadband is not a luxury. It is a necessity,” he said.

Dallas ISD parent Monica Marcelo says online learning has its ups and downs.

Her fifth-grader, Damian Espinoso, and kindergartener, Gabriel Espinoso, are both students at Rosemont Elementary School in North Oak Cliff. They have been learning at home for almost two months now, and got word Monday from the superintendent that online learning could continue next year.

“I feel bad for them,” Marcelo said.

Damian, who is going into middle school next year, says he would not like school if it all went online. The 11-year-old Damian says, sometimes, learning at home is harder.

Marcelo says it scares her to think about sending her sons back into a classroom — even in the fall. But she speaks for many parents when she says leading school from home isn’t easy.

“There are days when it’ll be smooth sailing and they’ll get things done before 1-2 o’clock,” she said. “And there are days it’ll last ’til 5, and they need a lot of brain breaks.”

Right now, teachers are not considered essential workers when it comes to being eligible for childcare. That is something else that will need to change in order for many teachers to be able to return to the classroom this fall.