Students in Plano ISD start the year off with virtual learning

Thousands and students and teachers in the Plano Independent School District started virtual learning Wednesday.

Parents say the first day went better than expected and things were much smoother than they were in the spring when everyone had to make a quick switch to online learning. But many families can't wait until students are back in the classrooms.

Teachers were on campus for the first day, but the students weren’t. They are kicking off the year online with teachers giving live instruction from their classroom for the first four weeks of school.

The district gave out Chromebooks and hot spots to families who need them.

In a recorded message, the superintendent said the first three days of school will be spent learning new daily routines and practicing the online platform.

“It’s a very untraditional start to the school year but like every year one thing remains unchanged. We can’t wait to see our kids, welcome them back to school even in the virtual environment,” Superintendent Sara Bonser said.

For some families, the day went by with just a few minor glitches. At times, students say they were logged off and the connection was slow. But it’s a vast improvement from last spring.

“We've all smiled today. We haven't had any crying. We haven't had any yelling,” said parent Rachel Brewer. “I think we just kind of took a deep breath, said a prayer and just said, ‘Whatever happens today is going to happen.’”

But other families are having difficulties.

Melody Schell has two kids with special needs and says their family is struggling to adjust to online learning.

“There's been crashes and they weren't able to get some of the apps that they needed,” she said.

Schell was part of a group of parents called Students 4 Success who organized a rally outside Plano ISD last month pushing for in-person classes. She hopes her kids can return to school in September but worries online learning will stretch the entire school year.

“Their futures depend on being able to interact and physically be able to perform some of these tasks,” she said. “How do you teach 3D art at home? I just don't know. And I really feel like they're robbing my children of being able to learn.”

The district is also helping teachers with childcare. Plano ISD has three childcare centers for children six weeks old to kindergarten. It’s a way to recruit and retain the best teachers, the district said.

More than 52,000 students are enrolled this year. Those choosing in-person learning can return to their classrooms after Labor Day.

Students in Allen, Bland, Castleberry, Ferris, Granbury, Mansfield, Mildred and Prosper ISDs also returned to school on Wednesday. Some of the smaller districts welcomed students back into classrooms.  

BACK TO SCHOOL: School district start dates/delays