AUSTIN, Texas — School is back for many Central Texas districts, and as some of them get ready to log on for virtual class or sit in a desk, Thrall Independent School District has already pulled the band-aid off and welcomed their students back in-class and online.
The Williamson County school district began learning on Aug. 10, and superintendent Tommy Hooker said their plan is "so far, so good."
About 75% of students at Thrall ISD are learning on campus, while 25% are learning from home.
When developing the plan, district leaders knew they could not bring back all the students and staff at once.
For those students who would attend class in-person, the plan operates on a block schedule. One group of students attend in-person classes two days a week. A second group will attend two opposite days of the first group, and on Wednesdays, everyone is virtual.
A final group of students choosing to stay home can log onto their technology to get started.
"The staff felt really good the way everyone responded, you know wearing the masks, social distancing and the handwashing, and today, we just built on that," Hooker said.
PHOTOS: Thrall ISD students going back to class – in person
Hooker did not hear many complaints against the masks, and said only on occasion did students need reminders to put them back on.
"We have Pre-K, 5-year-olds, all the way up through high schoolers who put that mask on and they know it's business and it's amazing," he said.
However, that does not mean the plan is perfect. He said schools are working out small kinks. Hooker noted issues at lunchtime that need to be resolved.
While students and teachers did social distance, Hooker believes it can be better.
"The hardest part is really keeping everyone to have that appropriate social distance because it's just natural for us to want to stand closer to talk and do things," he said.
While a majority of students and teachers returned to the classroom, some of them learned from the comfort of their homes.
Over the weekend, the district supplied staff and students with the supplies they needed to learn and teach from home, including Chromebooks. Now, leaders need to help improve the fluidity of the process.
"It is not working perfectly because we had so much training we did not get to have especially for our new staff, but for all our teachers," he said. "We had one week of staff development, which ultimately was more like two days because there were so many other regulations and requirements we had to get done."
During the district's virtual learning day each week, they will use downtime to strengthen areas in need of improvement, while also focusing on team building and deep cleaning the schools before students return for the remainder of the week.
The first day back to school got mixed reviews from Thrall ISD families. Some said their children were excited to return.
"My boys had a great first day and said it was great to see their friends. They didn’t have anything negative to say. I’m thankful that our district is trying," said one Thrall ISD parent.
However, other parents believed it was better to go remote and beat the coronavirus before reopening for in-person classes, and that the social distancing taking place was "sad" and not good for students' mental health.
Hooker recognized it will take more than a few days of classes to determine if their plan is effective, but he believes district leaders listened to what the community wanted and has high hopes for the upcoming year.
"We have a lot of hope we will continue on this path. We just hope we can work through all the other things that really come our way," he said.
On Thursday, multiple other schools will open their doors or log in for class, including Lago Vista ISD, Leander ISD, Pflugerville ISD and Llano ISD.
For local school districts' plans, KVUE is keeping track of all updates here.
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