With the start of school less than a month away, the Sherman Independent School District has released guidelines for returning to the classroom for the fall semester.


When classes resume for the fall semester on Aug. 17, Sherman Independent School District families will be given the option to start with in class or distance learning options for the first nine weeks of school. The district will consider opportunities to transition between in-person and distance learning at the start of each nine-week period on a case-by-case basis


"At the end of last year we had to come back and reflect on COVID-19 and how we are going to educate our children. So, we reflected over the summer and we started planning," SISD Communications Director Kimberly Simpson said Thursday.


For the distance learning option, students will take part in online instruction each weekday that will be aligned with what classmates will be studying during the in-person option.


Electronic devices will be provided to students who are in need.


The district is asking parents to commit to one of the options by July 29 in order to give the district time to prepare hard numbers for which students will be taking each option.


"We have to have to have them commit by July 29 so we can continue planning for the start of school. Parents are not going to be able to bounce between both options and they will need to commit for nine weeks," Simpson said.


Teachers will follow district curriculum and use an e-learning lesson plan template for virtual instruction. These lessons will feature a combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning.


"For example, a teacher may notice in her review of submitted student work online that some students are struggling with the addition and subtraction of decimals," the district said in its reopening plan. "Instead of re-teaching this concept to her entire class, the teacher might decide to schedule a small group synchronous (live virtual) lesson with those students, offering differentiated instruction based on their needs."


During this time, students who have mastered this skill would move on to asynchronous lessons on the given topic.


Students participating in distance learning will also be able to participate in extracurricular activities as allowed by the TEA, UIL and health officials. However, transportation to and from school for these activities will be provided by parents or guardians.


Students participating in on-campus learning will be required to wear a face covering at all times while at school, using district transportation or when instructed by a teacher.


Parents will be required to conduct a health screening of their children each day to check for symptoms of COVID-19, including sore throat, cough and fever. Students with these symptoms should remain at home.


On elementary campuses, students will report directly to their classroom upon arrival. Dismissals will be staggered and multiple entry and exit points will be accessible to allow for social distancing.


On the secondary level, students will be encouraged to use outdoor walkways as much as possible. Social distancing will be implemented throughout the school as much as possible. Other precautions will be taken for the 2020-2021 school year, including the campuses not issuing lockers to students.


Social distancing will also be observed in the classroom, with desks spread out as much as possible to give students room.


Social distancing will also be observed on school buses and other district transportation. Officials said buses will be limited to two students per seat, and assigned seating will be in place for contact tracing purposes. Like in the classroom, students will be required to wear masks while riding.


In the event of a confirmed case of COVID-19, contact tracing would be used to help determine who might have been exposed to the infection. From there, the district can take steps, including quarantines, to prevent further spread.


Earlier this year, the district had one confirmed case during strengthening and conditioning practices.


"During that time, informed individuals who were in direct contact with that person and sent out emails out to our families alerting them of that information," Simpson said. "We will follow the same communication guidelines when school starts."


These new rules follow similar guidelines that were issued earlier this month by the Texas Education Agency for the start of the 2020-2021 school year amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and health crisis. Sherman’s Operation Reconnect, which were released Thursday morning, include procedures for conducting in-person and distance learning and steps students and teachers can take to prevent the spread of the disease.


"Through Operation Reconnect, we remain committed to providing a learning environment that prioritizes the health and safety of Sherman ISD students, staff and parents, high-quality instruction, and continued support of students, staff, and parents," the district said on its website. Thank you in advance for thoroughly reviewing our reopening plan for the start of the 2020-2021 school year.


For more information, and to see the full plan, please visit https://www.shermanisd.net/operationreconnect.


Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached at mhutchins@heralddemocrat.com.