Denton ISD's Dennis E. Stephens Central Services Building

All Denton ISD teachers are expected to return to campuses to lead their classes come Aug. 26, even those who will teach online classes.

The announcement was made during a pair of online staff meetings led Thursday morning and afternoon by district administrators.

Addressing staff Thursday afternoon, Superintendent Jamie Wilson explained the importance of having all team members onsite to work through the school year, regardless of whether or not their students are also in the building.

For example, a fourth-grade teacher at Bell Elementary who teaches online classes, even if students from other elementaries are taking those classes, would be expected to report to their school for work.

Reached by phone after Thursday afternoon’s meeting, Wilson said collaboration between teachers is an important factor of a successful school year, and having everybody in the same building helps meet that goal.

“We’ve spent too much time working on collaboration to let that falter because of COVID,” he said.

Beyond that, students moving from an online to an in-person format need to have a seamless transition, which he said would be improved by having all teachers working onsite.

As for immunocompromised teachers or those uncomfortable with returning to campuses for other reasons, Wilson said there is still time to work through those issues on a case-by-case basis.

Teachers have right around four weeks until they’re expected to start back up and another three weeks after that before students are meant to return on Aug. 26, provided school board members agree to changes set to be proposed during Friday’s special board meeting.

As of Thursday, the official start date for students was still set for Aug. 12.

Some teachers might be comfortable teaching online if they can stay properly socially distanced from their co-workers, Wilson suggested. Others might want to take a leave of absence until they feel comfortable returning.

“I think we can work through most issues,” he said. “But as with all cases, it gets to the point that this is what the profession is.”

He said some teachers might have to make a difficult choice soon, but he hopes people don’t leave the profession because of the pandemic.

“There’s not an easy answer to that question,” he said.

To help protect students and staff alike, administrators announced during Thursday’s meeting that students would be provided with folding clear plastic dividers to set up while working at desks. The district is also ordering gaiters and masks for students.

Administrators are asking parents and students to commit to either in-person or remote learning for a full grading period, but Wilson said exceptions to the rule will be treated the same as schedule changes were during a standard school year.

The district has an online survey available for parents unsure of whether remote instruction would work for their children. It asks questions about students’ organizational skills, computer skills and the importance of in-person interaction in their daily lives.

Sandra Brown, the newly named director for elementary curriculum, said the questionnaire score does not determine where a student is enrolled, but it is a helpful tool.

In case it comes into play, a FAQ page makes clear that students learning remotely won’t be allowed to participate in extracurricular activities.

As with all education decisions in the county over the past few months, plans are subject to change based upon shifting guidelines or orders from numerous entities, including Gov. Greg Abbott, the Texas Education Agency and the University Interscholastic League, to name a few.

MARSHALL REID can be reached at 940-566-6862 and via Twitter at @MarshallKReid.

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