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Education

Maskless & In Person, With COVID Rates Rising — How North Texas Schools Are Planning For Fall

Front door of James Madison High School with name above the door and electronic sign in front.
Keren Carrión
/
KERA News
Masked third-graders work on computers at Tibbals Elementary School in Murphy in December. Tibbals is in the Wylie school district which appears to have not announced any specific COVID-19 protocols for the coming school year.

Many schools are still working out the details about how they’re going to keep students, faculty and staff safe amid rising coronavirus case numbers and hospitalizations.

On top of that, schools cannot require students are faculty to wear masks, per an order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott last month.

So how exactly do schools plan to keep students and teachers safe when they return to the classroom next month?

Here's a list of some of the largest North Texas school districts' plans to mitigate the spread of the virus this fall.

Fort Worth ISD: The school district said learning will be in-person only starting Monday, August 16. Virtual learning will not be an option.

FISD said it will implement daily health screenings at home before students go to school and daily campus cleanings. It will also encourage hand washing and social distancing when possible. The district said it will maintain the same COVID reporting protocol as the previous school year.

Irving ISD: Irving ISD’s blueprint for the upcoming school year outlines a number of safety measures: maintaining at least 3 feet of physical distance as much as possible, encouraging frequent hand washing and disinfecting high-touch surfaces in school buildings and buses. The district said it will also support any student or staff member who wishes to continue to wear a face covering.

“I strongly believe that in-person learning is the most effective for students and their progress,” said Irving Superintendent Magda Hernandez. “Last year was a tough year academically — there’s no way around it. But perhaps one of the toughest challenges was not being able to interact and engage with all of our students in-person. Our team has worked diligently to ensure we can offer in-person learning in a safe and healthy way.”

Frisco ISD: In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for FISD said campuses will do their best to keep students socially distanced when possible, as well as promoting regular hand washing.

Parents and employees will still be required to report COVID-19 cases to campus administration, but the info will no longer be tracked on a District COVID-19 Dashboard. Parents and staff will be notified when there’s a positive case that they may have come into contact with.

Garland ISD: Garland ISD has released a comprehensive outline of what parents, students and staff can expect when they return to school this fall. Ricardo López, the district’s superintendent, prefaced the plan by noting it is subject to change.

“We are living in unprecedented times and must remain flexible. As guidelines and orders change from local, state and federal authorities, Garland ISD will adjust, but rest assured, our focus will always remain on doing what is best for students and staff,” he said.

Mesquite ISD: Mesquite ISD said face coverings are optional, but recommended for anyone who has not been vaccinated or not fully vaccinated. Parents and staff members will receive an email notification only when a lab-confirmed case of coronavirus is reported for their campus or facility.

Campus nurses or the director of health services will also perform contact tracing and inform anyone who meets the criteria for close-contact exposure. Each case is handled on an individual basis, and necessary quarantines will be determined at the nurse's discretion.

Denton ISD: Denton ISD said self-monitoring and self-health awareness are key for a safe return to benefit all students and staff for the 2021-2022 School Year and is encouraging wearing a mask in all district facilities, especially for those who aren't vaccinated.

Denton ISD also notes on their website that they are in constant communication with Denton County Health Services (DCHS). If COVID-19 becomes prevalent in the community, the district said they will partner with DCHS, operating under their guidance, and adjust protocols.

Some Districts Haven't Shared Their Plans Yet

Some school districts either have not yet released COVID-19 protocols for the 2021-2022 school year, or do not plan to issue updated guidance.

Dallas ISD: Nina Lakhiani, a spokesperson for DISD, said the district is still figuring out plans for the upcoming school year and will update their health and safety measures based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the Dallas County Health and Human Services. They have, however, released a Staff Safety Protocol Handbook.

Lakhiani said a number of COVID protocols will already be in place, including physical distancing of at least 3 feet, enhanced cleaning and ventilation and personal protection equipment available at every campus. She also noted that DISD students, staff and visitors will be encouraged to wear masks regardless of their vaccination status.

Plano ISD: Plano also hasn’t released a concrete plan for the school year.

“As we continue to plan for the approaching school year, we will be sharing return-to-school information on our website and directly with our families,” district spokesperson Lesley Range-Stanton said in an email.

Updates on the district’s back to school plan should be posted here, and PISD’s current COVID-19 protocols can be found here.

Lewisville ISD: On its website, Lewisville ISD said the intention is to begin the school year in a much more traditional way, in what most would consider a “typical” school environment.

“The final decision regarding restrictions before school starts is completely dependent on the health-related circumstances in our communities in late July and early August,” the district said.

Lewisville ISD said they will refer to guidance from the CDC, Texas Education Agency and local health officials when making considerations to change their COVID protocols.

Richardson ISD: According to the district's website, COVID-19 protocols and requirements for the 2021-22 school year have not been finalized. But when they are, they'll be based on Texas requirements and recommendations from public health experts. RISD said staff is planning for as close to a normal school year for face to face students as is safely possible.

In a video released this week by Richardson ISD’s superintendent, Jeannie Stone said the protocols will be released on August 2.

Mansfield ISD: In May, the MISD school board decided to return to normal operations and let the district’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols expire, as well as the district’s mask mandate.

“The safety and well-being of our students and staff members will always be our top priority. MISD will continue to clean and disinfect schools and buildings," the district said in a press release earlier this summer. "We will also continue to emphasize proper hygiene, such as frequent hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes, and encouraging students and staff members to remain home when sick.”

Mansfield was originally planning a fully online school for students in grades 5-12 this fall, but the Texas legislature did not approve funding for virtual learning.

Keller ISD: Keller ISD is planning for the upcoming school year to take place without the need for the COVID-19 protocols (i.e. face masks, contact tracing, strict social distancing, etc.).

"As a best practice, Keller ISD will continue to put an emphasis on proper hygiene decisions, including frequent hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes, and encouraging students and employees to remain home when sick," the district said in a statement.

Keller said leaders will also continue to monitor the pandemic and work closely with state and local health officials.

Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD: In a press release from July 19, the districtsaid it is finalizing the 2021-22 return to in-person learning plan and that more information will be released to families and staff in the near future.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

Got a tip? Email Rebekah Morr at rmorr@kera.org. You can follow her on Twitter @bekah_morr.

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