As Williamson County Schools prepares to reopen schools to students later this month, school officials are aiming to keep in-person instruction in place but are warning that safety protocols must be followed in order to do so.

The district announced Aug. 14 WCS will begin a phased-in approach beginning Aug. 24 that will allow all students who opt for in-person instruction to return to campus. On Aug. 14, the number of active coronavirus cases dropped into the district’s low-spread protocol, below 1,200 cases. The district had been in its medium protocol for the past few weeks, resulting in most students starting the school year remotely.

The county’s active cases rose over the weekend back above the district’s medium threshold, and remains above 1,200 as of Aug. 17. However, Superintendent Jason Golden said during the WCS board of education meeting Aug. 17 the number of active cases—which has declined from a high of more that 1,500 active cases in July—is now more manageable for the county emergency management department, which the district has been in daily contact with. The district is not expected to move back to its medium protocol for now.

“But what we do know is that is our communications with those departments is working, and I am encouraged about where we are and where we’re going to go,” Golden said. “Now with that said, what we know with this pandemic is, there’s no guarantees.”

Golden said that as students return to campus, it will be even more important to follow safety protocols, including staying home when sick and wearing a mask, as social distancing will not be possible at all times.

“You all know that one big difference between where we have been in our medium protocol and where we are going to be in these next few weeks as more students come on campus is that social distancing,” Golden said. “Common sense tells you if you’re socially distanced, if you’re not near somebody, the chances of you getting an illness drop very low. But when we go back on campus, we’re not going to be able to stop people from being near each other over the course of class periods. It’s just the nature of the size of classrooms, and so the importance of the mask becomes even greater.”

Golden said when the number of active cases hover just above the low-spread threshold, should that number rise over the course of the semester, it is not known for sure if the district will allow in-person instruction to continue.

“I have to give that caveat: There’s no guarantees,” Golden said. “We let folks know when we sent our message out on Friday, near the end of that message, that unusual things can happen. This is a pandemic. I hate it; I wish I could give guarantees in this context, but I can’t."