After a marathon meeting lasting nearly 11 hours and adjourning just before 4 a.m. Wednesday, board leaders with Fort Worth ISD have voted on a new timeline on the return to campus.
Optional, in-person learning has been delayed by an additional two weeks, pushing the district’s start from Oct. 5 to Oct. 19. However, various and special student groups can begin with the original Oct. 5 date as initially planned.
In a press release issued Wednesday afternoon, the district said a waiver must still be sought from the Texas Education Agency in order to implement this new schedule. However, as approved by the board early Wednesday morning, teachers are required to report to campus on Sept. 28.
Pre-K, kindergarten, first-grade, sixth-grade, and ninth-grade students, as well as self-contained special education classes, who choose in-person instruction, will return on October 5. Seventh-graders at Rosemont, Wedgwood, McLean, and Forest Oak Middle Schools who choose in-person instruction will also begin that same day.
2nd, 3rd, 7th, and 10th-grade students who choose in-person instruction will begin classes on Oct. 13. All students will participate in either in-person or virtual classes on Oct. 19, the district says.
At the same time, trustees also approved a hybrid model of in-person instruction for the district’s high schools. The plan will split students into two groups that will alternate two days of in-person and two days of virtual education. The two cohorts would then attend school every other Friday.
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Steven Poole, executive director of the United Educators Association, said the plan was ‘an improvement’ from what was approved last week.
“It’s going to give the district to fine-tune their safety plans before a lot of students are back in the building. It’s also going to allow them to work with their staff who may have underlying health conditions if they contract COVID,” Poole said. “Teachers are relieved that there’s a plan. Teachers are planners and they like to know where they’re heading, so at least it’s a plan out there for Fort Worth ISD to be able to execute.”
Under this plan, parents still have the option to stick to virtual learning. Ken Kuhl, the father of a second-grader, said they plan to continue virtual learning for the time being. The process has gone better than expected for his daughter, Kuhl said.
“She’s been incredibly engaged,” he told NBC 5. “One of the things I was most hopeful for was they’d include a lot of what they call “social-emotional” learning in the curriculum and they have.”
Other parents like Lizzie Whitmire plan to send their children back to school. Her children, a first-grader and third-grader, will be returning on different weeks under this plan.
Whitmire said her thoughts on sending her children back to school have changed throughout the pandemic.
“At the beginning, definitely not. During the middle, started to feel more okay about it. Now, I just feel like with what the data says, the kids should be in school,” Whitmire said, citing this study as the reason she began speaking out on the issue.
However, like many parents, she still has questions.
“I am curious to know how sanitary things are going to be or how spread out things are going to be, because I am thinking about the teachers too,” Whitmire.
Kuhl said he had questions on what school will look like for his daughter once students return in-person.
“What teacher will she have? Will they be doing both at the same time? Will they be doing it at different times? What will the schedule be?” he asked.
Regarding the hybrid model for high school students, the school district said specific schedules and details will be shared soon by each school.
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price had pushed trustees to stick by its decision last week. Price released a statement Wednesday saying: "I was disappointed in the recent FWISD re-vote. But, the City is ready to roll up our sleeves and continue to provide the support our community needs. The City of Fort Worth community centers are offering Camp Connection for students during this virtual learning phase of school. Camp Connection provides in-person support for students who are completing virtual lessons, as well as offering healthy meals, and activities. Education has and continues to be a top priority for me and this city. I will continue to do everything in my power to advocate for positive education outcomes in Fort Worth.”