DALLAS — Updated at 7:41 p.m.with a copy of the letter from North Texas school districts to Gov. Greg Abbott.
The Dallas Independent School District is scheduled to start the new academic year on Aug.17, but Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said Monday that start date might change.
That’s just one of the possibilities Hinojosa and his team are considering as COVID-19 cases surge across Texas.
Because of the growth of COVID-19 in the area, Hinojosa said in an interview with WFAA that district leaders are considering alternative plans for starting the year.
“The context is changing significantly and we need to have a backup plan that we’re going to present to the trustees,” he said.
Hinojosa said he would like to delay the beginning of the academic year until after Labor Day to give the district time to prepare for in-person and virtual learning.
“There are a lot of moving parts and this thing changes almost hourly. We just need a little more time to be better equipped to have a better instructional program,” he said.
Dallas ISD serves around 157,000 students and employs more than 20,000 teachers and staff. It's the 14th largest district in the U.S.
Los Angeles and San Diego schools decided Monday they will go online only in the fall, becoming the largest school districts in the country to make that decision.
At the same time, Dallas County reported over 1,000 new COVID-19 cases for the 11th day in a row. County officials described the situation Monday as “rampant community spread.”
For comparison, when DISD shut down, Hinojosa said, there were only 1,300 cases in the county.
However, going online-only for instruction may not be an option for the Dallas school district and other districts around the state.
“We have a complication in Texas that the state says if you’re going offer education to students, you have to offer at least in-person somewhere,” Hinojosa said.
He joined the superintendents of Fort Worth ISD and HEB ISD in sending a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday asking to be allowed to start school online only.
“We encourage Texas to allow school systems to begin the 2020-2021 school year with full online learning for students for a minimum of the first six- or nine-week grading period without state aid reduction,” the letter read.
Hinojosa, FWISD Superintendent Kent P. Scribner and HEB Superintendent Steve Chapman wrote that they hope the state will reconsider its initial findings on reopening as “conditions have changed so drastically in the last four weeks, particularly in our metropolitan areas.”
The district leaders also asked the state to waive attendance accounting requirements, set a floor on average daily attendance so funding remains the same as 2019-2020, and allows districts to design curriculum -- either in-person, virtually, or a combination -- to meet the needs of their community.
Currently, the state has said schools have three weeks to ramp up to in-person instruction.
Regardless of when school begins for DISD, parents will be given two weeks to choose whether they want to do in-person or virtual learning. The district is asking them to commit to one choice for a full grading period, to allow them to match students with teachers.
However, Hinojosa said school officials know they will have to have some flexibility.
"If a parent opts out, says it’s no longer safe, we still want them to commit but we’ll work with the parents," he said.
Hinojosa also said health and safety is a big concern for teachers, as well, some of whom have said they’re health won’t allow them to teach in-person.
The district is planning a number of safety measures for students, parents and staff who will be in school buildings. Those include temperature checks, requiring face masks and face shields for students and teachers, and plexiglass dividers in the classrooms.
“We’re going to pay attention to all of those details,” he said. “We have to be safe.”
If a visitor arrives at a school without a mask, one will be provided.
Hinojosa said this is tough for everyone and he knows he won’t make every single parent, teacher or student happy.
“You have to do what’s in the best interest of your district and your students and your staff members,” he said.
More from WFAA:
- As the pandemic continues, it's time to see the internet as a utility
- Texas teachers caught in the middle of political battles over schools reopening
- State senator says it’s too early to reopen schools in Texas
- Teacher's representative says schools should be virtual for first 9 weeks
- Should school start as planned? The discussion is happening across North Texas and beyond