As the 2019-2020 school year comes to an end, questions remain on what the upcoming fall semester will look like for Texoma districts following the COVID-19 pandemic.
With newly released CDC social distancing guidelines for schools, the fall semester may look very different for returning students, and for the kindergarten class, children may never know what it means to share supplies.
Will it ever be the same?
“We are not going to be able to return like it was before,” Denison Independent School District Superintendent Henry Scott said. “It is going to be under some very different kind of conditions. It is going to demand that we do different things to protect our students and staff than we have in the past.“
Looking to the immediate future, Scott said Denison will likely hold at least one summer school session, but it will be delayed until July.
“Some of it will be at home,” he said. “If we do anything other than that, it will be under the strictest guidelines that the CDC recommends.”
That could possibly mean face coverings be worn by staff and encouraged for students.
“The CDC does say that field trips and large group events should be canceled, desks should be 6 feet apart and children should stay with the same staff groups all day,” USA Today reported about truth and myths related to CDC classroom recommentations. “But those are only recommendations to promote social distancing, not requirements.”
The CDC also recommends staggered drop-off times and students eat their lunch in classrooms rather than in large communal cafeterias.
With regard to the fall semester, Scott said DISD is forming a group to consider its options. This group will start meeting some time in July.
“What we are doing for the fall when all the students come back and the teachers is we are putting together a task force called the school reopening task force,” Scott said.
The district is also supporting a petition that would allow some students, including the immuno-compromised, to continue lessons at home at least for the start of the new school year.
Meeting after fourth of July. Plan for new school year.
In Sherman, district officials said they are currently planning for scenarios in which students do return to classroom and where the district begins instruction under distance learning.
“Everything is still very fluid, however, things are hard for school districts because we still have to plan for the next year,” SISD Communications Director Kimberly Simpson said.
In the event that distance learning is utilized, Simpson said that educators will have time to refine their lessons, given the experience they gathered this spring.
“I think our teachers and curriculum instructors did an amazing job in such little time in adjusting our programs,” she said. “They did such a good job that if we were to continue distance learning, all we would need to do now is go back and enhance it.”
However, SISD Superintendent David Hicks said he would prefer if the district started the new school year in the classroom. Despite this, he did not rule out the use of distance learning to some level for 2020-2021 school year.
“Over the two-and-a-half months, our teachers have pivoted away from what we knew as traditional school to one that is online and serves kids virtually, if you will,” he said. “Based upon the participation we’ve seen, we’ve had a lot of success with it.
“We know moving forward there can be a blend of in-person and online learning but the connection between kids and their teachers is so powerful that our first priority is to start the new school year in a traditional sense.”
Still that raises many questions for the district’s #Transition2020 which already had to be moved back to spring 2021. The new Sherman High School was originally set to open this coming fall, but due to inclement weather in 2019, the opening of the school was pushed back to January 2021 at the first school board meeting of the new year.
Now, questions about when the new school will open are at the forefront of area resident’s minds, and the schools is working to keep a clear line of communication around its plans for moving into a three-tier system which was set to take place during the 2021-2022 school year.
What got us here
With the arrival of the coronavirus earlier this spring, districts across the country shuttered many schools and transitioned to remote learning models for their curriculum.
Both Denison and Sherman Independent School Districts announced on March 13 that they would extend their traditional spring break by an additional week. This would give educators and district leaders time to devise an learning model that would allow students to work from home for each district.
The distance learning model transitioned much of the lessons and learning to online services, including Google Classroom. Through this program and others, teachers are able to upload recorded lessons or have class through online meetings.
“I can tell you we have some very, very creative teachers and some have set up green screens to project a background that they are teaching from,” said Susan Whitenack, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction.
For students who do not have Internet access or devices to connect to lessons, district officials also printed off packet-based lessons.
In addition to affect classwork, the closure of schools led both districts to transition their school feeding programs to a remote model as well.
The pandemic also dramatically changed the spring calendar for graduating seniors, with almost all spring activities, including prom, canceled or reconfigured for social distancing.
Both district also delayed their graduation until June in order to have a more traditional ceremony.
Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached at email@example.com.