Large portions of Denton ISD’s Tuesday school board meeting were public pleas to the community to follow the guidance of public health professionals.
District leaders made clear that in-person classes are largely dependent on two factors: community compliance and the proportion of students who opt for online learning.
The calls came a day after Denton County Public Health called upon local school districts to suspend in-person classes through at least Sept. 8. Superintendent Jamie Wilson said the district will try to comply as best as it can, but there are some students who simply won’t be able to function with remote learning.
“I am as frustrated as our parents are,” Wilson said. “We need their children to be in school.”
Despite that, he said the state of the pandemic makes it unreasonable to expect a full opening of in-person classes. He cited statistics from Denton County Public Health as evidence of that.
Like all Americans, Wilson said he had heard different ideological takes on the pandemic and the return to widespread in-person classes.
“We don’t get to pick ideology,” Wilson said. Instead, the district is tasked with following the guidance of local health professionals.
For example, he said students with dyslexia, other special education students and those without a guardian at home during the day need a campus to thrive.
New rulings from the Texas Education Agency allow for school districts to push back the first day of in-person learning up to eight weeks beyond the planned first day of school.
The district moved the start of the school year to Aug. 26 at a recent meeting, so Denton ISD could theoretically keep students learning remotely until as late as Oct. 21.
Wilson and others made clear Tuesday that a higher portion of students learning from home would make those on campuses incrementally safer.
Roughly 60% of district students expressed interest in online learning, according to a presentation given Tuesday evening.
Some classes, even if they are taken online, will require some face-to-face learning. Such courses are marked with a “hand” icon in the district’s course catalog.
Jeanetta Smith, a board member, said she was worried about students picking up the virus at school and bringing it home.
“This is something that appeals to me because I am elderly now, and I just think that we can’t think of opening the schools without thinking about our elderly grandparents at home,” she said.
Wilson said personal responsibility comes into play for families when they decide how their children will learn in the 2020-21 school year. The district can’t be held responsible for how families manage their safety at home.
“There is going to be COVID transmission that takes place at school,” Wilson said. “It is going to happen.”
As an example, he referenced two Jump Start students who were sent home and subsequently tested positive for strep throat. People get sick, even with social distancing, hand washing and regular mask use.