Headed into the 2020-21 school year, district officials are still contending with the impact of COVID-19 after being forced to pivot to remote learning models at the end of last school year.

On July 21, Tarrant County health officials announced that public and private schools in the county will be required to offer remote learning to begin the fall semester. The order requires districts, including Keller and Northwest ISDs, to provide remote-only instruction until Sept. 28.

“We will still be asking families in the coming days to commit to participating in either in-person or remote instruction when Keller ISD campuses are able to reopen,” said Shellie Johnson, KISD Director of Communications. “We will plan on reopening campuses on Sept. 28, to those students who have selected in-person, provided that we have permission to do so.”

Officials with the Texas Education Agency on July 7 released COVID-19 related guidelines for school districts.

Among other requirements, districts will be required to offer both on-campus and virtual instruction, comply with state orders for social distancing and face masks or face coverings and notify parents, students and teachers when a positive coronavirus case is confirmed at school.

“There will be two phases of our learning this year–in-person and remote,” Northwest ISD Superintendent Ryder Warren said. “In-person will be daily, full-time and on-campus, and remote learning will be from home. It will be totally different from the [spring] and is going to be hours of everyday work.”

The district is expecting the majority of students to return to school for in-classroom instruction, when possible, after more than 15,000 responses to a district survey, he said. Nearly 70% of parents would prefer to return to normal instruction if allowed by state and local health officials.

“All NISD students in Tarrant, Denton and Wise counties will begin the school year as remote learners,” said Lesley Weaver, NISD Director of Communications. “The first day of school is still scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 20, and we hope to be able to safely re-open for in-person learning on Monday, Sept. 28.”

To accommodate students, KISD officials established the Keller ISD Reopening Action Team in June in order to focus on three main areas: health, safety and operations; parent choice; and innovation.

“Health and safety of our students and staff continue to be our top priority,” KISD officials said in a district news release. “We are committed to finding ways to provide clean and safe educational environments where students can learn and grow together.”

When students return to campus, safety protocols will include face masks and physical distancing, medical screenings and temperature checks for teachers and students, contact tracing and signage and education.

“My biggest concern is the kids who may not have the discipline or learning style [for online classes],” said Rebekah Bos, who has multiple children in KISD. “We want our kids to be able to go to school because we didn’t feel like they were self-motivating during online classes.”

According to district officials, protocols will be implemented at all 42 KISD campuses. The district will likely implement a combination of varied school schedules and remote learning.

“We’re planning for people to be back in the building with appropriate protocols in place,” KISD Superintendent Rick Westfall said. “It will affect how kids change classes. There will be hand sanitizer everywhere and things that we’ll have to do differently.”

Students will eventually have both in-person and remote learning options available; however, students will be required to stay with the learning model of their choice for at least a semester, KISD officials said.

“Kids staying in one classroom and lunches in class sounds a lot like returning to grade school,” Bos said, regarding the districts’ plans. “That sounds like a scheduling nightmare.”

According to Westfall, a third learning option known as ‘hybrid” will be available for remote learners who desire to take a specific class that is available only on campus.

“We will allow students to complete coursework from home while continuing to receive the many benefits and support services KISD provides,” the district said in a statement. “Anything that differs from our traditional instruction will require approval by the Texas Education Agency.”

The goal, KISD officials said, is to meet students’ academic and social-emotional needs, regardless of the learning format. As a result, KISD educators have improved upon remote learning models used in the spring, and students and teachers are being equipped with the right tools.

“We remain steadfast in our mission and core values to provide optimal engaged learning while keeping our students and employees as safe and healthy as possible,” the statement said.

A remote start will result in all students and staff working remotely for the first three weeks of school, Warren said.

The district plans to re-evaluate the impact of COVID-19 during that time.

“We need to be working through this so our kids understand how we’re going to do things,” Warren said. “Parents need to be talking to their kids, just like they did after spring break.”