Dallas ISD officials hope to return to school at the beginning of the next school year. But even if they do, they won't be returning to normal.
Dallas schools have been closed since March 16. On Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order closing schools statewide for the rest of the 2019-20 school year.
Shortly after that order was announced, Dallas Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said the district was already working out plans for bringing students back to school beginning in August. In order to do that, Hinojosa said, the district would need to rethink certain things that, until recently, have been part of a typical school day.
Large-scale assemblies and pep rallies in which every student is in a single room probably won't be possible right away, he said. Students at some schools may also have to eat their lunches in classrooms, where they'll be able to keep a certain distance from each other, rather than in school cafeterias.
"We're not going back to normal," he said. "We know we're going to have some type of modifications in August."
Abbott announced the closure, which also applies to private schools and both public and private colleges and universities, during a news conference Friday afternoon.
"The team of doctors advising us have determined that it would be unsafe to allow students to gather in schools for the foreseeable future," Abbott said. "As a result, school classrooms are closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year."
In a statement released shortly after the announcement, Texas Education Agency officials praised the move, calling it a difficult decision but "the only one that makes sense for Texas at this time."
"TEA fully supports the governor's actions and continues to work closely with districts across the state to ensure students are getting what they need: meals, dedicated efforts to keep kids feeling safe and connected during these times, and support so students can continue to learn and grow academically," officials said.
Hinojosa said district officials were already planning around the assumption that they wouldn't be able to return to in-person classes this year. Though he didn't want to make the decision to close the district for the rest of the school year prematurely, Hinojosa said it became obvious as the pandemic gained a foothold in North Texas that it was unlikely they'd be able to bring students back before summer.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the Observer's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Dallas's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
"To me, it was becoming very evident this was going to be a grave situation," he said.
The district needs to be able to bring students back as soon as it can do so safely, Hinojosa said. While he said he's proud of the way the district's teachers have pivoted to distance learning on short notice, online classes simply aren't as effective as face-to-face instruction. Teachers can't tell if students are on task, he said. They also can't see nonverbal cues like confused facial expressions that might indicate a student doesn't understand, he said.
Even if classes haven't been taught in a traditional way these last several weeks, teachers in the district have had regular contact with about 98% of DISD's students since the shutdown began, Hinojosa said.
Dallas ISD's first day of school for the 2020-21 school year is scheduled for Aug. 17.