Six months after tornado, DISD’s Thomas Jefferson HS now deals with coronavirus challenges

Six months ago Monday, an EF-3 tornado destroyed three Dallas ISD schools, uprooting thousands of students.

There was a massive effort by district officials to get students back into classrooms. But the coronavirus pandemic changed everything, again.

After the destructive storm the night of October 20, 2019, there were tattered school buildings and a move to a temporary campus 10 miles away for Thomas Jefferson High School staff and students.

“All of that seemed like the  biggest event we'd ever faced,” said Sandi Massey, TJHS principal.

Now, what TJ students would give to have back that sometimes 40 minute commute.

“Almost every kid says their challenge is that they are lonely, isolated, they miss their friends, actually miss interaction with school,” Massey said.

RELATED: Coronavirus coverage

Out of a student body of 1,900, 80 students did not return after the tornado. Now it looks like the coronavirus pandemic has caused the school to lose about 35 more students.

“It's one thing to lose your school, another to lose school and community,” Massey said.

While Massey can no longer give students a pat on the back in the hallways, it's not stopping her from reaching out, using videos online to stay in touch and maintain a presence.

“Altough you can have that with a platform with technology, it is not the same as being able to look at someone and give them that reassurance, with a smile,” Massey said.

She’s also using technology to connect with her staff.

Since TJ students and staff are now used to weathering storms, Massey and her staff have already been brainstorming about how they might be able to have school in a socially distant way next fall.

One idea, if necessary, could be to have half of the students come on "A" days and half on "B" days.

“I have a lot of kids say they really miss school. Which is crazy to hear a bunch of teenagers say they miss school so much,” said teacher Camille Munoz.

The district says that despite the pandemic, construction plans to rebuild schools for the students displaced from the three campuses is right on schedule. The opening day for Thomas Jefferson is still August 2021.


Thomas Jefferson High School staff helping students transition to new campus

Months after tornado destroyed their school, some Dallas ISD students now facing challenge of home learning