FORT WORTH, Texas - Despite a warning from a top health official, students in the Fort Worth Independent School District will be allowed back into the classroom in just a few weeks.
The school board on Tuesday night voted down a plan that would have extended the district’s online-only learning period.
That means students will begin in-person classes on Oct. 5 if their families choose that option. Those who want to stick with remote learning will be allowed to do so.
The superintendent is holding a districtwide meeting with school principals Wednesday that is focused on getting the in-person learning plan in motion.
Tarrant County’s public health director said it's vital school leaders have a plan B in place should COVID-19 numbers continue to rise.
He also told the school board he would not be comfortable sending his own children back to school until there is a vaccine.
But some parents and teachers told trustees they want to be able to make that choice themselves.
Others urged caution going forward.
“There is simply no way to guarantee that in-person learning is safe. We can take all of the precautions that have been outlined but none of these precautions can 100% guarantee that the coronavirus will not spread in schools,” said Jennifer Lenning, a Fort Worth ISD teacher.
“I cannot support going back to school in the near future after hearing the medical expert say he was not gonna put his kids in school,” argued Cinto Ramos Jr., the Fort Worth ISD board president.
“If our numbers start to rise, I don’t want our kids in the schools. However, right now I think this is an opportunity that we can start phasing them in so they can get that instruction they need and get caught up,” added Daphne Brookins, a Fort Worth ISD trustee.
Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Dr. Kent Scribner presented the board with examples of the safety planning.
“Transparent dividers, like the ones you see at the board meeting here tonight, will be provided in classrooms when additional safety precautions are necessary,” he said.
Teachers will return to their classrooms by September 28.
High schoolers will be asked to self-screen prior to reporting to class.
Younger students will be screened on campus for COVID symptoms, and face coverings will be required on all campuses.
Fort Worth ISD parents are now left to make their own tough decisions.
“I still have great concerns for the safety of the community at large in opening the schools back up,” parent Ken Kuhl said.
“I know there's not just one thing that goes into the decision, so I appreciate that they're doing the best they can,” parent Tiffany Rogers said.
“Unfortunately, because there were not enough specifics from the district for me to feel comfortable to send my kids back. At this time, I'm keeping them virtual, parent Dr. Carla Morton said.
“Glad people have a choice to send back their kids, but I wish it was four weeks from now when they could have made that choice,” parent Irene San Juan said.
Dr. Scribner said parents can revisit their decision of in-person or virtual learning at the end of the grading period.
If there is a coronavirus outbreak on campus, the decision to close any school would be made in collaboration between the superintendent and health officials.
The health director told the school board he wants to see whether COVID-19 numbers spike in Tarrant County following the Labor Day holiday.
So far the results from a parent survey show about half of the district’s 80,000 students are ready to return to in-person learning.
Families have until Friday to respond to that survey.