Fort Worth ISD announces plans for Aug. 17 school start date

Fort Worth ISD shared its plan with in-person and virtual options from the start.

The district is offering both options to families beginning Aug. 17.

That start date is one of the earliest that’s been seen yet. But that could all change if Tarrant County sends out an order to push back school, like Dallas County.

Fort Worth ISD says more than 19,000 students have enrolled in school so far. A little more than half of them are opting for in-person instruction. But when they return to school, it will look much different than what they're used to.

Fort Worth ISD is trying to inform parents as much as possible on what to expect for the first day of school.

In an interview with FOX 4 last week, Superintendent Dr. Kent Scribner said current coronavirus data indicates virtual learning may be needed for now.

“Obviously all of us want our students to learn in person,” he said. “But given the current realities and increase in coronavirus cases and the trajectory we’re on, likely the most wise thing to do for us would be to offer virtual instruction.”

The district's detailed plan describes online learning for students from elementary through high school.

Teachers will be specifically designated for online instruction, working from empty classrooms.

Students will have to engage in a minimum of four hours of daily instruction, with teachers providing daily interaction as well.

With FWISD planning to start on Aug. 17, Dr. Scribner says he and other Tarrant County superintendents are in communication with county leaders.

“We really want this to be a countywide decision so that there is consistency for families, consistency for students, and that it not be a week-to-week decision,” Dr. Scribner said. “Parents need to plan. Teachers need to plan. We all want to know what to expect.”

For students who go to school in-person, the district will follow the governor’s current executive order on masks.

For now, that means students will be required to wear face coverings throughout the day, except for younger students and those with special health circumstances.

Staggered releases from class will be used to limit students in hallways. And during meal times, other areas of school, like classrooms or libraries, may be used for social distancing.

“We’re moving forward, listening to our teachers and parents and students so we can roll out the best form of education,” Dr. Scribner said.

All families will be required to complete a daily wellness check and check temperatures from home. School staff will also perform health checks when kids arrive at school.

If there’s a confirmed positive case, those who were in close contact will be notified and the appropriate areas will be cleaned. The person will only be allowed to come back to school if their symptoms improve, it’s been ten days since symptoms began and they are fever-free for at least three days. 

Families are also allowed to change between in-person or virtual instruction between grading periods.

The district also has discipline policies for students who don’t wear a mask when required. But the district says students will not be suspended for not wearing a mask.

Planning Underway in Arlington ISD

At Monday night's Arlington ISD board meeting, Superintendent Dr. Marcelo Cavazos was not optimistic about being able to hold in-person classes when school is scheduled to start.

It is very unlikely that we will have face-to-face instruction Aug. 17,” Dr. Cavazos said. “It is unlikely because of our current health situation.”

Like most districts, when Arlington ISD opened registration, parents were given an option of in-person or online learning. The district is still finalizing details for its plan and calendar.

Multiple speakers voiced their opinion on Monday about what the district should do.

Briana Bianco is a teacher.

“We have two main jobs as educators: to teach and to keep children safe,” she said. “We can do both of those things by teaching virtually and keep school buildings closed until health officials deem it safe to reopen based on data.”

Tarrant County superintendents have talked with county health officials Monday and last Friday.

Tarrant County Public Health Director Dr. Vinny Taneja has the power to delay in-person learning but has not issued an order.

“Safety is our priority and it is our team’s priority. It’s something that we will not compromise,” Dr. Cavazos said. “We won’t compromise the safety of our students, our staff or our community.”

Arlington district officials say more information will be released on their website later this week.