As school districts across the state and nation prepare to open under new pandemic guidance, Texoma districts are working on ways to safely return to the classroom.
Among the considerations for Denison and Sherman Independent School districts are online classes, in-person class, a combination thereof and staggering schedules.
"Our number 1 priority as always is the safety of our students and staff," DISD Superintendent Henry Scott said. "Before any learning can take place, we need to maintain a safe condition for our students and staff, and we are going to do everything possible to make that happen."
In a video released on July 2, Sherman Independent School District announced what it is calling Operation Reconnect — district efforts to continue education this fall.
The district is forming a task force to consider options including a mixture of online and in-person learning, staggered educational days and a full return to pre-COVID-19 practices.
"This task force will consider our survey results along with educational best practices and guidance from the governor, Texas Education Agency, Centers for Disease Control and, of course, our local health officials while they work," Sherman ISD Superintendent David Hicks said in the video.
Representatives declined an interview Wednesday, citing that the district would be releasing a plan during the week of July 20. At that time, the district will be discussing its plans.
Like Sherman, DISD said it is still working on its plans, and expects to release them on July 27. As a part of district planning, Scott said a committee is being formed to develop plans for each of the nine district campuses.
"What we did some time ago was put together a task force of a lot of people: central office, principals, etc., to create a plan based on guidance from the TEA safety plan," he said. "Of course, until yesterday we really didn’t know everything and we were working off a draft."
Scott said these plans will be designed to be living documents that adapt as the situation in Denison with COVID-19 changes.
With regard to the preventative steps outlined by the Texas Education Agency, Scott said that Denison will work to follow them as closely as possible, noting that some practices like social distancing will not be possible in all parts of the campus.
"Most classrooms are not set up to have a six-foot distance between students," Scott said. "We are going to have to take other steps to make sure the students are wearing masks, practicing proper hygiene and other efforts like that."
With regard to masks, Scott said the requirement will likely be in place for students in the first grade and above.
"You are going to have to do everything you can to encourage them and to teach them about the dangers," Scott said. "But how you do that for Pre-K ... that is going to be a challenge and we are going to have to work through that. It is going to take a lot of coordination from the teachers and school staff to do that."
Scott said a recent survey of district families found that 20 percent of students would likely start the year learning from home using remote learning and other practices. Scott said this would be done by teachers "with help from a source" without elaborating.
"Those details have not been worked out," he said. "It is not going to be easy, and there is going to be a challenge. Once we get back into school, we can make some changes that will make it easier for our teaching staff."
Other changes that will likely be put in place for the upcoming school year include changes to busing so that students are kept apart, and adjustments to her students are let out of class throughout the day.
"We are going to ask parents to partner with us to check temperatures," Scott said. "We are providing thermometers to allow parents who do not have them in the home to check the temperatures of their children to make sure they are in a reasonable range."
The Texas Education Agency announced a series of guidelines for school districts for the upcoming fall semester when students are expected to return to the classroom for the first time since March due to the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic.
With this new guidance, local districts are working to make localized plans for how they plan to conduct classes this fall.
The new guidance offers some direction for districts ahead of the upcoming school year. Among the requirements outlined by the TEA are that students and faculty will be required to wear masks indoors, and social distancing practices should be practiced when possible within the school.
Other guidelines call for self-screening by teachers and screening of visitors to the school, among other requirements.
Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached at email@example.com.