Dallas Independent School District will not have in-person classes or sports training until at least Oct. 6, Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said just minutes ago.
Speaking at a news conference broadcast live on Facebook, Hinojosa said the board of trustees in two weeks will consider whether to stay with online-only classes through the end of October after re-evaluating whether opening schools in the midst of the ongoing pandemic is safe. School resumes online Sept. 8.
Some school districts nationally, including those in Los Angeles and San Diego, have chosen to stay with online-only classes throughout the fall, but Hinojosa said DISD wants to keep the option to reopen if possible.
"We need to see our students," he said. "We haven't seen our students since March."
When that might actually happen depends largely on the rate of new COVID-19 cases in Dallas County, which has fallen in recent days but remains high. Hinojosa pointed out that the county's infection rate is higher now than when schools switched to virtual classes in March.
While teachers want to see students face-to-face and know that isolation is affecting students' mental health as well as their education, "there's not one indicator it's OK to bring students back," he said.
The Texas Education Agency issued guidelines that allow public school districts to postpone in-person classes for four weeks after the start of school and request a waiver that would grant them another four weeks. Unless TEA changes course, districts that attempt to delay in-person classes beyond eight weeks could face the loss of state funding.
DISD received TEA's blessing for a second four weeks of online-only classes. Beyond that, if DISD is faced with a choice of reopening unsafely or losing funding, the result could be litigation.
"The pandemic doesn't have an expiration date," Hinojosa said.
TEA guidelines also allow parents to opt for virtual learning if it's available even beyond eight weeks. Hinojosa said around half of the district's parents indicated they were ready to send their kids back to classrooms in September.
Whether and how high school sports will return this fall is still up in the air, but Hinojosa said letting student-athletes return to campus for training but not regular classes would be unfair. If sports do return in the fall, Dallas teams could be behind other districts that decided to open sooner.
One bright spot is that the district has had several months to sort out some of the kinks brought on by the sudden move to online learning in March. Teachers have been taking training courses in online teaching in recent weeks — via Zoom and other online platforms, naturally — and the district's IT department has worked to overcome any kinks in technology and protect courses from malicious hackers, Hinojosa said.
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