Richardson ISD made a major decision on how to approach the first day of school Tuesday.
The district announced it will require masks for all students and staff on campus.
“We’re hearing from so many parents that were very fearful, and we’re just literally begging us to make the system safe as it could be by putting everyone in a mask,” said superintendent Jeannie Stone in an interview with NBC 5. “I feel really good about it, I think that will send a good majority of parents back to school with us feeling safer than they did even yesterday.”
Stone said she based the decision on the rise in delta variant cases and the strain it's putting on the local healthcare system.
In fact, the district already received reports that 49 employees and 50 students have tested positive for COVID-19 before the school year has even begun.
“That was a big decision that we made but we felt that for many, many reasons, safety and the safety of our students and staff being at the forefront of that," she said.
Stone added the decision for masks complies with current health recommendations and court rulings, although the legal battle over masks in the state is ongoing and could change.
Richardson ISD is also one of a handful of districts offering a virtual option this year for kindergarten through sixth-graders who are unable to be vaccinated yet.
Stone said about 1,000 families have signed up for the virtual learning program.
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“We did know that there was another percentage of kids that we might not have in school if we didn’t have an option,” she said. “So while I am a proponent for face-to-face instruction, I understand that there are situations where kids aren’t feeling safe or they may have health conditions where their parents do not feel like they can send them to school in a school setting face-to-face.”
At the same time, RISD is fighting learning loss.
"We have a huge focus going into this year on early literacy. We are offering universal pre-K and even providing transportation to all of our families. So really starting at those younger grades to ensure that we meet the goal that every student will be learning at grade level by the third grade," said Stone.
The district hired hundreds of additional resource teachers using federal COVID-19 relief funding given to local districts to help them recover from the pandemic’s impacts.
The new teachers will work especially with younger kids to make sure everyone is reading at grade level.
“Also we’re going to have extra teachers that are making their class sizes —all the way through high school — lower than they’ve been before,” said Stone. “So there’s just going to be a lot more hands-on-deck than ever before so that we can work and provide intervention for our students even one on one when needed.”
Still, data shows Richardson has fared better in learning loss compared to other districts in Dallas County.
For example, Arapaho Classical Magnet Elementary School performed so well on the STAAR test last year, it exceeded state and Dallas county scores at all levels for students meeting STAAR standards.
“I attribute that all to the great teachers who stayed committed. Even though with the STAAR exam, we were not going to have accountability this year, we knew that we were still accountable so that every student was learning and that learning is ongoing,” Stone said. “I really am thrilled about our results from this last year because of the work we’ve done this summer. And because of our new systems that we put in place to track their learning through data.”