With one pandemic-altered school year at an end, Dallas ISD officials must now figure out how to open a new one that will arrive before COVID-19 concerns are history.
The Texas Education Agency has advised schools to rethink next year, potentially adding optional summer instruction, having school year-round with more frequent breaks, or even a potential full-year redesign.
Even if students report as usual in the fall, they will likely come back to a school utilizing one-way hallways, masks, lunches in the classrooms, buses with fewer riders, and temperature checks before entering buildings.
Dallas ISD will need a way to get fewer students in a school at any given time, given that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends placing desks 6 feet apart and keeping groups of children together with no intermingling to reduce transmission risks.
TEA guidelines that put minimum classroom sizes at anywhere from 700 square feet per classroom to 800 square feet and place children 6 feet apart would leave schools short of space, too.
“Right now, we don’t know what we don’t know,” Dallas ISD superintendent Michael Hinojosa said of the virus and what the landscape will look like come August. But he did know that it was “highly doubtful” that students and teachers would return to schools operating as in the past. He was equally sure that the current model of all-distance learning was unsustainable for an entire school year.
“Most of our parents are hourly. They can’t work remotely; we have to take that into consideration.” -Michael Hinojosa
Instead, the district is looking at three scenarios:
• Plan A: All schools open Aug. 17 under normal conditions for in-school learning
• Plan B: All students continue with the current at-home learning model
• Plan C: The district opens with a blended model that combines some form of in-school and at-home learning
There are several scenarios within that “Plan C under consideration, too. A “hybrid opening” is likely, with students attending a brick-and-mortar school only part of the week. But the district is looking at variations of the model depending on the age range of the students served.
For older students requiring less supervision from parents, it may look like an alternating two-day schedule for in-person learning with online learning the rest of the time. For elementary students, attendance may be more frequent, but students may see themselves reporting to a different campus come fall.
“Most of our parents are hourly. They can’t work remotely; we have to take that into consideration,” Hinojosa said.
Hinojosa suggested the potential for spreading elementary schools out in multiple buildings “so at least we had that covered for parents that have to go to work,”
Any decision made, Hinojosa stressed, would factor in advice from state and local officials.
The district, he said, will need a clear plan on enforcing social distancing in classrooms, lunchrooms, and buses, as well as proper cleaning, screening of students, and the use of masks (and how to provide them to students and teachers) and other personal protective equipment.
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