DALLAS - Students in Texas will be allowed to return to their classrooms in August.
According to the Texas Tribune, Gov. Greg Abbott told lawmakers Thursday morning that public schools will open for in-person learning at the start of the school year.
School districts will not be required to mandate masks for students or test students for COVID-19 symptoms. Districts will also be allowed to offer alternative options for families that don't yet feel safe in a classroom, the governor said.
“It will be safe for Texas public school students, teachers, and staff to return to school campuses for in-person instruction this fall. But there will also be flexibility for families with health concerns so that their children can be educated remotely, if the parent so chooses,” the Texas Education Agency said in a statement.
Garland ISD is one of several North Texas districts that’s committed to a virtual learning option this fall.
Still, there are a lot of unanswered questions from state officials. How will it be funded? What protocols are in place?
A Frisco ISD notice to parents alluded to some displeasure in how Thursday’s information was released, saying it may have caused confusion and anxiety for families.
Frisco ISD Superintendent Dr. Mike Waldrip says the district has been waiting for additional guidance from the TEA before finalizing plans for the upcoming school and that “it is unfortunate that the state decided to release this information to the media while having districts wait until next Tuesday to receive details.”
The TEA tells FOX 4 that Tuesday’s announcement will be comprehensive and will give much control to local districts. It’s sending more than 50 million masks to schools across the state, as well as additional PPE. Still, it will not require students wear masks or be checked for COVID-19 symptoms, leaving parents torn.
Rena Honea, president of Alliance AFT, the Dallas ISD teacher’s union, says staff is concerned.
“So the district has to look at two or three different plans or models that could be implemented, depending on what the specifics of the guidelines are from the state,” she said. “I think for educators they know that the face to face is the most effective way to instruct students. But because of the safety concerns, they’re really concerned about that.”
Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Kent Scribner said feedback from parents helped the district make the decision to provide options for every student and family. But, both virtual learning and in-person study will be very different for students. Virtual courses will be more robust with higher expectations and traditional classrooms may have fewer students with social distancing guidelines.
In an interview with FOX 4’s Good Day Thursday morning, Scribner said students in Fort Worth ISD might be required to wear masks.
“Certainly we will be following our social distancing protocols. They will have PPE, mouth coverings, mask coverings. Safety and security remains our number one priority not only for students but also for faculty and staff,” he said.
Dallas ISD has already purchased Plexiglass dividers for classrooms and lunchrooms, as well as face shields for classroom time.
“Because facial expressions tell a lot in an instructional setting that would be very important. That's why we decided to bite the bullet and go ahead and order those shields for our students,” Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa said.
The TEA says it is possible that some local districts can make their own face mask requirement. A more comprehensive outline will be released on Tuesday.