As students across the state prepare to start classes in the next few weeks, the Denison Independent School District has announced its plans to return to the classroom on Aug. 13.


The district unveiled its district-wide return plan late last week, which included details on district plans to conduct both-in person and remote learning options amid the COVID-19 pandemic.


The plans, which can be found on the district website, outline the district’s response to the pandemic and how it plans to conduct courses in a way that is safe both for students and faculty. Specific plans for each individual campus are expected to be released some time Tuesday.


"I think we are in much better shape this school year to start online instruction than we were we required to do so in the spring," said DISD Superintendent Henry Scott. "It was a crisis situation and we were not prepared for. We never thought we would be caught in a situation with students at home with only online instructions. I think now we have things in place where we’ll be able to serve those students at a higher level."


Parents will be required to check for symptoms of the viral infection, including fever cough and sore throat, prior to sending them to school. Students who have the symptoms, have been exposed to someone diagnosed with the disease, or those who are diagnosed themselves, will be asked to stay home.


Under the plans, the district will allow parents to start opting into remote learning for the first six weeks of classes starting on July 30. Scott said this will allow the district and educators to prepare and plans for what the demand will be like.


As a part of the plans, some elementary school teachers will be focused on providing online learning to students who have opted to start the school year remotely. As time passes, Scott said these educators will be able to transition back to conducting classes in person.


By separating the duties to teachers focused on remote learning, Scott said this should not put an undue burden on the district’s educators.


"I think we have some things in place that will relieve some of that time," he said. "Of course, every body is going to have to step up and do more than they have in the past because of what we are dealing with."


The district conducted surveys of students ahead of these plans and found that about 22 percent of students wanted to start the year under remote learning.


Scott said students will be able to opt back into in-person courses every six weeks. However, a student will be able to opt into remote learning at any point in time, he said.


"There is no substitute for in school, in classroom learning," Scott said. "Relationships with the teacher and with those students is the best instructional program we can offer students. If they are not comfortable, they have that at home option."


For students in the secondary level, the district will use online course programming, including Schoology to record and upload lessons for students.


For courses that do not transition into an online model, including welding, cosmetology and other career skills courses, remote students will be able to go to the school campus specifically for these courses.


Within the classroom, students and desks will be spread out as much as possible to allow for social distancing. With some students studying remotely, Scott said there should be enough room to leave at least three feet between students, if not six feet.


When students return to the classroom, both they and their teachers will be required to wear masks while on the campus as a precaution and protective barrier for potential spread, Scott said.


Under Gov. Greg Abbott’s ongoing executive order, all students from fourth grade through 12th are required to wear masks or face coverings, however, Denison chose to extend this to all students in the first grade or above.


Each student will be issued one reusable Yellow Jacket face covering, but students may wear their own schoo-appropriate covering. Those without coverings will be provided a disposable mask.


In an effort to promote social distancing, Scott said the district will be reducing the number of students per bus and doubling up on routes. Due to this, the district will be staggering all start and end time for its campuses.


First bell and end bell for all elementary campuses and B. McDaniel Intermediate will occur at 8 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. Meanwhile, classes will run at Scott Middle School from 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. and from 8:35 a.m. through 4:10 p.m. for Denison High School.


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