After weeks of virtual classes, some school districts are now bringing students physically to the classroom for the very first time since March.
Frisco ISD spent an entire summer of planning and preparing for Thursday, which marked the first time the district welcomed back their students to in-person instruction since schools were shut down in March. Frisco started the school year on August 13 with remote learning for the first three weeks of the year.
It's a long time coming for the district to get back to the classroom, which was one of the very first in North Texas impacted by COVID-19 earlier this year.
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Parents had the option to either continue doing virtual learning or head back into the classroom at the pre-planned in-person start date of Sept. 3.
Parents will have multiple opportunities to decide between virtual and in-person classes at the end of the first nine-week period, which falls on October 16. Frisco ISD said there will be set periods throughout the school year where parents can choose what method of learning they prefer for their child.
If parents don't feel comfortable with in-person learning, they will have the option for virtual learning the entire school year if they so choose, a district spokesperson told NBC 5.
"That’s the parents' choice obviously. We want to try to provide the type of instruction that they want for their kids and if they feel safe with the environment they are putting their child in," said Dr. Mike Waldrip, Superintendent of Frisco ISD, during an interview at the start of school in August.
Although Thursday is the first day back in person, students will be off Friday and Monday for Labor Day holiday.
The school district told NBC 5 this was actually always the plan.
A district spokesperson said even in pre-pandemic times, starting on a Thursday allows for a period of adjustment and settling into the new school year before teachers and students hit the ground running next week.
If there are any issues on Thursday, the district said staff will have some extra time this weekend to make adjustments in time for next week.
We’re told teachers and staff will be communicating and reinforcing their new expectations and routines for students to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“We’ve had to completely revamp everything we do. Everything from kids riding buses to how they go to the restroom, how they go to lunch, how they go to the water fountain, arrival and dismissal. And obviously the way things are conducted in the classroom,” said Dr. Waldrip.
Frisco ISD has a table on their website that keeps track of active cases involving students and staff.
Currently, there are 28 students and 19 staff members for a total of 47 active cases. This includes those participating in both on-campus and virtual instruction, regardless of whether the individual was on campus during the infectious period.
The district clarified that their reporting method is different from some other school districts, which are only including students or staff members who have participated in on-campus activities.
The Texas Education Agency only requires school districts to report cases when the individual participates in an on-campus activity and is test-confirmed with COVID-19. Frisco ISD said it was already in the process of developing an internal reporting system and a public dashboard prior to the TEA releasing its reporting requirements.
Dr. Waldrip said there are strict procedures in place when it comes to contact tracing, quarantining and disinfecting the campuses.
"We’ve spent just as much time working on safety protocols as we have on the learning environment. We want our kids to feel safe we want our teachers and administrators to feel safe, our counselors to feel safe. We want our parents to feel comfortable sending their kids to school. And as things change, we may have to adapt what we do,” he said.
New protocols include staff taking their temperature every day, parents screening students before arrival to school, and classrooms and high touch areas will being sanitized often and every day.
Click here to read more about the district’s response to COVID-19 this semester.
Waldrip said Frisco ISD has followed CDC guidelines in tackling this virus head-on this year.
One of those methods includes a COVID-19 activity level system where protective measures – including the use of face coverings – will be determined by the level of disease activity of COVID-19.
It has 3 tiers: minimal, moderate, and substantial
Frisco is set at moderate right now, which means the positivity rate in the area is between 5 and 9.9 percent. Each Sunday afternoon during the school year, officials said COVID-19 activity level for the upcoming week will be posted on the district website and announced to students, parents and staff.
The district said it is relying on data from the Department of State Health Services (DSHS), Collin County Health Care Services and Denton County Public Health to determine the disease activity level and the appropriate protective measures.
"We work with medical professionals to develop those guidelines," said superintendent Waldrip. "We’ve spent just as much time working on safety protocols as we have on the learning environment. We want our kids to feel safe we want our teachers and administrators to feel safe, our counselors to feel safe. We want our parents to feel comfortable sending their kids to school. And as things change, we may have to adapt what we do."
That means for the first day of virtual instruction, students in 3rd through 12th grade will wear face coverings while at school, including in classrooms. Students in Pre-K through 2nd grade will wear face coverings in hallways, common areas, during arrival and dismissal and while waiting for or riding on a school bus.
Frisco ISD has posted the COVID-19 guidelines for parents to know what to expect for each grade level: