As school districts across North Texas prepare for the new academic year amid the pandemic, the Denton Independent School District is delaying its start date.
Over the weekend, Superintendent Jamie Wilson took to YouTube to let parents and students know the district needs an extra two weeks to prepare for the school year.
“Just know that we haven’t done this before either,” Wilson said in the video. “So, we’re working with you and with our teachers to really make it all happen and to make it a great learning experience, and a safe learning experience.”
The announcement comes just a few days after the state gave school districts the leeway to delay the start of in-person classes up to three weeks. It also comes within days of the Texas Education Agency finally issuing new guidelines for students and teachers to return to the classroom for the 2020-2021 school year.
Wilson said in a video that the district knows from surveys taken by parents in the district that families overwhelmingly want to get back to in-person classes and do not want to begin with remote learning.
"So as a result of those things and the recent uptick in cases in Denton County, our board of trustees has elected to push the school start date back for two weeks until August the 26th,” Wilson said.
The new school calendar for Denton ISD was approved by the school board on Friday, July 10 during an emergency meeting. School board members said they made their decision after hearing the advice of local health experts like Dr. Matt Richardson from Denton County Public Health.
“This is not good information, right? This is bad,” Richardson said, referencing the rising number of hospitalizations during their virtual meeting. “This is a trend that’s telling us we continue to have additional positive cases.”
Richardson explained to the board that hospitalizations for COVID-19 cases in Denton had grown from 10 to 90 in about one week. But he also told them that the county is seeing few cases involving children.
“Fatality rates for children are very, very low. And we don’t have any children who’ve passed from COVID-19 in Denton County thus far,” he said.
But, he says, cases in the youngest age groups are growing.
“There were very, very few children that were positive in March and April, and that is changing,” Richardson said.
Laura Brackney is skeptical about the District’s restart. She has two kids in Denton elementary schools. She said she doesn’t think the extra time is going to do anything to make classrooms safer.
“Unfortunately, right now, I don’t think the district is doing what is right for our children,” Brackney said. “And I don’t think the safety of the children or the teachers is at all being considered.”
Brackney believes schools in Texas feel threatened by federal officials. She said districts and schools worry they’ll lose funding if in-person classes aren’t happening.
“I mean, the TEA has its employees all working remotely,” Brackney said. “But it’s supposed to be okay for our kids to be crowded in the schools?”
Jennifer Collins also has two kids in Denton ISD schools. Her oldest is entering the 10th grade and her youngest is in the 8th grade. She said she will not be sending her kids back into the schools this fall.
“I don’t even think we ever really considered going back to school in-person as a real option,” Collins said. “I mean, I completely trust the school district to do everything in its power to make the schools safe. But I do not think there’s been enough done beyond the school district to provide adequate testing to make our schools safe enough for my kids.”
When asked about the delayed start, Collins said she hopes it helps teachers better prepare online classes. But she doubts the two weeks will really provide enough time for in-person class preparation.
“I don’t think it makes any difference at this point if you don’t have the testing infrastructure,” she said. “You can keep closing and opening back up. But the virus is still going to be there. And as soon as you open back up the same thing is going to happen.”
Collins called Texas’ response to COVID-19 “reactionary.” She said waiting and seeing what happens and then reacting is not how she wants her kids’ school years to be planned.
Meredith Buie agrees. She’s got an 11-year-old daughter in a Denton middle school. Buie said she doesn’t want to see in-person classes begin only to abruptly end because of COVID-19 cases.
“If you’re not prepared to do online learning, because you’ve been focusing all on in-person, it’s just going to be a disaster,” she said.
Unlike Collins, Buie said she has no faith in Denton ISD. She said the school district has wasted time, despite having a head start in preparing for the fall because classes went online in March. Buie said the district should’ve planned for an online start that phased in some in-person classes.
Denton ISD Parents have until mid-August to choose in-person or remote learning for their children. Superintendent Wilson said Friday he expects more parents will choose remote learning.