Fort Worth ISD parents are preparing for another passionate debate over online versus in-school learning on Tuesday.
The school board is set to meet at 5:30 p.m. to discuss whether to extend virtual learning by a month -- just one week after narrowly approving the option to return to class beginning Oct. 5.
According to the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting, the district is considering extending online learning through October 30, with in-person learning resuming on November 2. There's also plan to gradually bring students back on campus.
Mayor Betsy Price, who rarely speaks out on controversial school board issues, pushed trustees to stick by its decision last week.
"Parents need a choice and it's time the adults came together and made good decisions for our children's future," she said. "Our workforce for the next generation needs education."
Price said the district can do it safely by giving parents and students a choice.
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Joy Blocker is a teacher and a Fort Worth ISD parent who is fighting for the choice to send students back to class in-person.
She started an online petition following the board’s decision to reconsider its earlier vote.
The petition demands an in-person learning option ‘now.’ It has over 2,600 signatures so far.
“We don’t want to push our will on everybody else. It’s not for everybody,” she said. “But we feel strongly that our voices are not being heard and our teachers are not feeling supported and that they want to be back in the classroom.”
Fort Worth ISD teacher and parent Jennifer Hensley has a slightly different outlook.
Hensley prefers that the district designate teachers to either solely teach in-person or online, not simultaneously under a hybrid model.
“We need more time. We’re not ready,” she said. “We have not had training to do in-person as well as virtual so as educators we are not ready and I believe the students will suffer.”
Hensley acknowledges there were ‘hiccups’ when virtual learning began.
The board decided to reconsider its position about six days into virtual learning, she said.
“Kids and teachers were, we were all struggling,” she said. “But us teachers are starting to get our stride with this virtual learning.”
For some, frustration over the board’s intent was fueled with a social media post over the weekend.
“A lot of folks were saying is that hypocrisy,” asked Blocker.
School board president Cinto Ramos posted a photograph online of him and his young son at the Dallas Cowboys game at AT&T Stadium on Sunday. More than 20,000 fans watched the team play.
Ramos has publicly voiced concerns about allowing children back inside school amid concerns of contracting COVID-19.
He declined comment on attending the Cowboys' game.
“I think the thing that a lot of folks were upset by and that I can see is just, man, he made that choice to be in that situation [attend the game] but we can’t get a choice to put our kids back in school,” questioned Blocker. “How can he say one thing and turns around and does something different. And that’s hard! I hate that for him. He’s human. Everyone makes mistakes but when this is such a big issues going on right now I mean decisions are important.”
Emotions are running high for parents, too.
One mother, who asked not to be identified, tells NBC 5 her daughter who attends school in the district has been negatively impacted by the lack of in-person learning.
“Her mental health has been severely affected,” she said. “This is a child that had so much potential and now I’m more worried about her day-to-day because she has now been diagnosed with major depression and anxiety.”
Adding to the high emotions surroundings Tuesday's meeting, the United Educators Association is planning a rally outside the meeting location, with over 100 teachers and staff signed up to take part. The UEA said teachers feel like they haven't been involved enough in the decisions that are being made.
"There's a lot of staff with underlying health conditions that haven't received any answers from the district. They're concerned about having to teach both virtually and in person, so there's a lot of concerns and they just don't feel like their voice is being heard," said Steven Poole, UEA executive director.
"Teachers just want answers, they are rule followers. So they want to know what the plan is and they want to know that it's a well-thought-out plan. And that their concerns are taken into consideration. So until a definitive plan is laid out by the district, it is causing stress amongst employees."
Adding to the frustrations, the UEA said the only opportunity for direct input teachers have had was one link to a survey that had only two questions.
When asked about this, the district told NBC 5 that in August, they held a virtual town hall for teachers only to answer question and submit comments. That was in addition to four other community town halls that were open to parents, teachers and staff to help the board come up with a plan, a district spokesperson said.
Still, with no set plan and a chance for more changes, Poole said teachers want to be back in the classrooms with their students but they want to do it in a safe manner.
"Teachers just want answers. They are rule followers so they want to know what the plan is and they want to know that it's a well-thought-out plan. And that their concerns are taken into consideration," he said. "So until a definitive plan is laid out by the district, it is causing stress among employees."
The Fort Worth ISD board meeting is set to start at 5:30 p.m. and will be closed physically to the public. It will be streamed on the district’s Youtube page and through a Zoom link. Click here for instructions.
Anyone who wants to sign up for public comment can call 817-814-1956 until 5:30 PM the day of the meeting.