In a district as large as Dallas Independent School District, it's inevitable that someone is going to miss a day of school, but school leaders have noticed an increased number of absences this school year.
"We've definitely spoken with families who are concerned about COVID, rising cases with the Delta variant, concerns about young children who can’t get vaccinated," said Susana Cordova, Deputy Superintendent of Leading and Learning at DISD.
She said about 9,000 students who were expected to show up to school have not. The district is calling, texting, emailing and knocking on the doors of DISD families to re-enroll.
“It’s getting better every day, so that’s the good news. Every day we do see enrollment increasing, and so we are getting more and more kids back," explained Cordova. "Yesterday we were at 94% of our enrolment projection in person and anticipate we’ll continue to see that go up."
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During 2020, the interrupted schooling and virtual learning due to the pandemic led to a lot of learning loss. Dallas ISD rolled out three different start dates for students to go back to school this school year to help different schools try and make up.
H.I. Holland Elementary was one of a handful of schools to go back on Aug. 2. The majority of DISD went back on Aug. 16.
"Having students to come... so we can feed their social and emotional needs in addition to their academic needs is why we are pushing for all of our scholars to return to in-person instruction," said Shanieka Christmas-McDonald, the principal of H.I. Holland Elementary.
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She said during the first week of school only 250 students out of 400 showed up, but over the weeks the number has grown. As of Tuesday, it's 376.
“So when you consider our typical yearly enrollment is 400, we’re only about 24 scholars off and a few of those scholars have enrolled in the Virtual Academy," explained Christmas-McDonald.
While COVID-19 concerns have been a top reason for some families, Christmas-McDonald said the early start time was also a factor. So was the fact some families have kids in other schools who started later, so they just waited until the majority of the district went back.
She said typically they hit their target enrollment goal after Labor Day and still anticipating a few families to return.
As for those concerned about the coronavirus, the district rolled out a virtual option for students too young to get vaccinated or those who are considered medically fragile.
The district also has a mask mandate and COVID-19 protocols, tools DISD hopes will make families feel comfortable sending their kids back to class.
"I think our families are in a really challenging position. Everybody wants their kids to be safe, healthy and learning, and I don't think any of us ever imagined we would be in a place where we would have to question which one of those things to juggle and balance and how to prioritize when it comes to our kids education," said Cordova.
DISD does have a dashboard that shows how many COVID-19 cases are in the district. There's no threshold as to how many COVID-19 cases would force a campus to shut down.
"We would have to make decisions on a case-by-case basis on whether or not we would need to close a school, and really that’s going to be around if we have enough teachers to keep a school open," explained Cordova.
She said they are using quarantine measures and contact tracing for cases that pop up.
Christmas-McDonald said they're having weekly meetings with parents to remain transparent about what's happening inside the school. She said as of right now they have four cases, and it's amongst students.