Superintendent Jeannie Stone and Deputy Superintendent Tabitha Branum announced the changes at an Aug. 24 work session. Students in elementary school and special education will start in-person instruction on Sept. 8 as planned; however, the district will postpone campus reopenings for both junior high and high school students until later that month. In-person instruction will resume at junior highs Sept. 14 and at high schools Sept. 21.
Return date changes were made after considering many factors, including spread of the coronavirus and students’ social-emotional needs, Stone said.
“The key driver in staggering our seventh and eighth grade and our nine-12 [grades] is really about the student and staff safety,” she said.
The choice to reopen elementary schools first was based on lower risk factors for students in those grades, as they do not have as many transitional periods and classroom changes, Stone said. The district looked to local health authorities in Dallas County and Richardson to help guide their decisions on this matter, Stone said.
Stone and several board members said it is crucial that parents reinforce the importance of social distancing and mask-wearing as a means of keeping schools open.
“We can't mitigate and necessarily keep [the coronavirus] out completely ... But if everyone is wearing a mask, there's less likelihood of it spreading,” Stone said.
Prior to the briefing, nearly three and a half hours of feedback submitted by parents, students, teachers and community members were read to the board by members of staff. This was a record amount of public comments for the district, Stone said. Many of the commenters urged the district to return to in-person instruction as soon as possible
“I do believe the virtual model is well-planned, but no amount of planning will be able to counteract the social and emotional isolation, neglect, learning deficiencies and just general abuse or lack of care in some of our kids’ home environments,” parent Heather Gray said.
Other commenters pleaded with the district to wait to reopen campuses until students could return safely.
“It is simply too early to bring teachers and students back to in-person classes. School should remain virtual until the pandemic is better contained,” said Ashley Beckman, University of Texas at Dallas employee and Richardson resident.
Trustee Regina Harris said she was concerned by the lack of feedback from families of color in the district.
“Fifty-three percent of our folks said they want to do face-to-face,” she said. “My big concern is that I'm almost positive that those numbers include such a small percentage of our minority community.”
New board member Debbie Rentería echoed that sentiment, adding that the district could have done more to connect with minority families.
“I know that people might get tired of me saying this over and over again, but the largest demographic group in our district, the largest one in our district, are Latinos,” she said. “And even in a meeting such as [the school board meeting] tonight, there is no live translation.”
Other board members expressed their appreciation for the district’s decision to stagger start dates and assured the public that they are listening to their comments.
“Parents have made their choices, and it is my hope that we honor their voices. We must not let fear overtake our thoughts and actions,” trustee Eron Linn said.
The district had also planned to discuss its protocol for reporting confirmed cases of coronavirus among students and staff, but agreed to postpone that conversation to the Sept. 8 meeting due to the late hour.