Fort Worth ISD moves first day of school to Sept. 8 with 4 weeks of virtual learning

The Fort Worth Independent School District has pushed back the start of the school year.

School board trustees met for an emergency meeting Thursday to discuss the plan for reopening schools.

After five hours of discussion and hearing community feedback, they voted 8-1 in favor of starting the year off with four weeks of virtual learning beginning on Sept. 8.

Thursday morning's meeting began with teachers and staff members making impassioned pleas to keep the previous plan, which was six weeks of virtual learning. But some parents and students said they wanted to be back in the classroom on the first day of school.

The delayed start gives the district ample time for training teachers on how to successfully deliver curriculum via the internet.

“I share their frustration. We are all frustrated. This is unprecedented,” said Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Dr. Kent Scribner. “Not only are we changing with public health conditions. We are dealing with changes from the state and local agencies and we will respond as such.”

Dr. Scribner points out at the end of the first four weeks, the board will evaluate public health concerns at that time and make a decision as to whether in-person learning should then take place. 

The superintendent said special needs students, because of very unique requirements, will be allowed to come to campuses for instruction when the school year begins.

The decision comes after weeks of changing guidance from the Texas Education Agency, the attorney general, and local health officials.

Fort Worth ISD originally intended to give parents a choice between virtual and in-person learning and start school August 17.

But last week, with TEA guidance, Tarrant County Public Health officials banned in-person classes until September 28.

Earlier this week, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said that school districts should decide when to open their campuses, not local health officials.

Districts like Carroll, Eagle Mountain-Saginaw, Keller and Mansfield have also decided to offer in-person classes earlier than they previously planned.

Arlington ISD decided to start the year off with four weeks of online learning. It will decide when to offer in-person classes at a later time.

Districts are at the risk of losing state funding if they do not have students back in the classrooms within eight weeks of the first day.

“It has been hard to keep up with everything. So I have to stay connected to social media and news outlets, just to find out the changes that are happening every day,” Fort Worth ISD parent Rachel Martinez.

Martinez has three kids in the district, and said Thurday’s decision was what she was hoping for.

She has been monitoring local COVID-19 case numbers, and said her children will likely stay in virtual learning as long as possible.

“I just really hope that whenever we do return to school, that we're still implementing some of the online learning,” she added. “That way, if the situation occurs again, our school has to shut down for other reasons, we can still continue to learn online.”

The Fort Worth ISD Council of PTAs has been hearing from all different types of families in the district. From those who work full-time and are concerned about staying with virtual learning, to those concerned about kids possibly bringing COVID-19 into the house from school.

“Hearing all the diverse variables that are happening for Fort Worth ISD families, helps us understand that this decision is really hard. And this decision is a tough one to make,” said Alexander Montalvo, president of the Fort Worth ISD Council of PTAs.

The council of PTAs and district leaders said they’ll continue to try and connect parents in need of things like childcare with the help they need.

“We've done this whole pandemic of, do you need rent assistance? We can help you there. We can point you in the right direction. Do you need food? We can point you in that direction,” said Tiffany Rogers, vice president of the Fort Worth ISD Council of PTAs.

“We want to get students back in our classrooms, in brick and mortar buildings for person-to-person instruction as fast as possible, as long as it’s safe.” Dr. Scribner said.

With the delays, the end of the school year will now go into the middle of June.

Fort Worth ISDs superintendent said they’ll continue to monitor the situation, and if they feel they need to extend virtual learning further, the board will have to take another vote.