Calhoun Middle School

Students show and demonstrate their Raspberry Pi projects to family and Denton ISD staff during a Raspberry Pi coding class at Calhoun Middle School in June 2019. 

Gov. Greg Abbott told lawmakers Thursday that public schools will open for in-person classes at the top of the 2020-21 school year as local school districts try to figure out what classes and schools will look like when that happens.

School districts will not be required to make students wear masks, check temperatures or test students for COVID-19. Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said it would be safe for students to return, and schools will have some flexibility with how to make sure that happens.

The Texas Education Agency is expected to release more information and guidance Tuesday.

As reported by The Texas Tribune, some national polls have shown the majority of parents are not comfortable having their children return to campuses until the pandemic’s health risk has passed.

The mood is drastically different in Argyle ISD, according to a recent survey the district conducted. Nearly 2,000 parents, staffers and students were polled for the voluntary survey the district presented during Monday’s school board meeting.

Over two-thirds of respondents said they would prefer schools offer classes in person. Another 28.9% of respondents said they might be more comfortable with more information available about potential openings. The remaining 3.7% did not feel comfortable, according to the survey.

District officials pointed out the difficulty of determining how that would translate to the number of students who might not return for in-person classes because multiple parents or guardians of the same student might have filled out the survey, or one parent might have filled it out with several children in mind.

Argyle Superintendent Telena Wright, reached by phone after Abbott’s announcement Thursday, said she solidly supports face-to-face learning with safety precautions.

“I’m very pleased to hear that announcement from Gov. Abbott,” she said. “Of course, there are many challenges for each and every school district as far as implementing a safe environment for students as we return to school.”

Wright pointed to ongoing summer athletics and band programs in the district as a chance for self-assessment before more students return for the 2020-21 school year. Like countless other school districts, Argyle ISD has been modeling three basic options for the coming semester: in-person classes, virtual learning for all students and a hybrid between the two.

As of Monday night, board members seemed most interested in a system in which nearly all students return to campuses with a greater emphasis on hand washing. That projection likely would include some teachers, but not students, wearing masks and gloves.

“I feel optimistic about [next school year],” Wright said. “I just feel like we’re up to the challenge of implementing a face-to-face school year.”

Superintendent Jamie Wilson, in neighboring Denton ISD, echoed many of those sentiments but declined to speculate on specific measures.

“We’re talking on June 18 about something that happens on Aug. 12,” he said.

Denton ISD will present the results of a parent survey during Tuesday’s board meeting, Wilson said. He estimated 80% of parents would choose in-person instruction over a high-quality virtual program.

Both Wilson and Wright pointed to uncertainty around school funding as the biggest piece of guidance they hope to get from Gov. Abbott and Commissioner Morath in the coming weeks. Simply put, they want to know how much the state will pay districts if students study from home.

“We have to be funded for that because, frankly, it costs us more,” Wilson said of the expense of replicating lesson plans for online classes.

In past years, he said, the district would lose out on attendance-based funding if a student was sick and out of the classroom for five days. He asked: What happens now if a student tests positive for COVID-19 and has to quarantine for two or three weeks?

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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

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