As Start of School Nears, Texas Parents Worry About Safety of In-Person Classes

Many Texas parents are worried about the prospect of sending their children back to school.EXPAND
Many Texas parents are worried about the prospect of sending their children back to school.
Nathan Hunsinger
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For the past few weeks, Amanda Scott has watched with growing concern as the days until school starts tick away and the number of reported cases of COVID-19 in Dallas climb ever higher.

Scott's son Fletcher will be going into second grade at Mockingbird Elementary School in East Dallas. With just 39 days remaining until the first day of school, Scott, like many parents, is trying to figure out what to do. Fletcher misses his friends and his school. She'd love to be able to send him back in person next month, but with new cases of the novel coronavirus topping 1,000 each day, she's afraid to take that chance.

"We are so torn on all of this," she said.

Scott isn't alone. Most Texans think it's unsafe to send children back to school in person, according to a poll released this week by the University of Texas at Austin's Texas Politics Project.

The concern is greatest among young adults, the poll shows: 81% of those polled between the ages of 18 and 29 and 72% of respondents between the ages of 30 and 44 said it isn't safe to send children to school.

Narrower majorities of Texans in older age brackets agreed. Of poll respondents between the ages of 45 and 64, 59% said it was unsafe to send children to school. Of those 65 and older, 56% said the same.

The poll was an internet survey of 1,200 registered voters conducted between June 19 and June 29.

Scott, 39, said those results track with what she's heard from other parents at Fletcher's school. She hasn't heard one other parent say they're confident they can safely send their children back to school in person at the beginning of the school year.

Dallas ISD officials haven't announced a final plan for what the beginning of school will look like. Last month, Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said the district was making several possible plans for the start of the school year while waiting for guidance from the state.

Tuesday, Texas Education Agency officials released guidelines for school districts as they prepare for the beginning of the school year. Among those guidelines were mandatory health screenings for students, teachers and staff coming to school in person. Students, teachers and staff will also be required to wear masks in most cases, and districts are encouraged to space students' desks 6 feet apart or more "in classroom spaces that allow it."

The guidelines also state that districts must offer daily on-campus school for all students whose parents want to send their children to school in person. That requirement effectively wipes out an option some districts had considered in which students would have alternated between in-person and online school on certain days of the week. It also means no district in the state may choose to keep their campuses closed during the fall semester. The guidelines state parents may request that their children be allowed to use virtual classes from any district that offers them.

Even with safety requirements in place, Scott said she doesn't think she can safely send Fletcher back to school next month. She's sure teachers and staff at his school will do everything in their power to keep the kids who do come back in person safe, but with there's only so much they can do. As the beginning of the school year approaches, Scott said she's becoming more certain that she'll be keeping Fletcher at home, at least for the first six to nine weeks of the school year, and maybe longer.

For now, Scott is trying to figure out exactly how virtual school will work for her and Fletcher. Based on correspondence she's received from the district, she feels like teachers are better prepared to help parents and students do online classes than they were at the beginning of the pandemic.

Scott and a few other parents are talking about forming a kind of homeschool co-op of families who are being careful. Each family could take all the kids in the group for one or two days a week and do online school with them. That plan would give the kids a chance to see their friends and parents time to work or take care of anything else they needed to do.

But whatever school looks like for Fletcher, Scott is certain it won't actually be at school, at least for a while.

"At this point, we'll be at home," she said.

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