Officials in Mesquite Independent School District have worked all summer to come up with at-home learning options that work for all students, but say they’ve also got to figure out a way to educate in-person that’s as safe as they possibly can.
"I have parents who desperately want me to open school tomorrow and I have parents who say there's no way my child is coming back to school," Mesquite ISD Superintendent David Vroonland said.
He said while learning at home may be the smartest way to avoid COVID-19 it’s not a reality for so many in his community where almost 80% of his students receive free or reduced lunch -- a sign of their economic situation.
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"Most of our parents have to go somewhere to earn a dollar," Vroonland said. "It would be wonderful if every one of my family members could work from home, and they were all gifted and able to interact with our children in a virtual space. That's not reality."
How do you make school as safe as possible? That information isn’t detailed right now and likely won’t be as COVID-19 counts shift.
"We need to give people more grace in this country right now because this is complicated," Vroonland said. "Last week I said to our parents, We can't mandate masks.' And then literally on Thursday we started mandating masks."
He if school opens, it would have to be cleaned like never before.
"Our bus drivers and crossing guards to come into our buildings and clean common surfaces all day long and the lunchroom in between, keeping things as clean as possible," Vroonland said.
The district is planning to add more staff to help and will change the way they handle sick students and teachers.
"We're changing policies on exemptions on tests because we don't want kids coming to school sick ever and I don't care whether it's the flu, COVID, or the common cold," Vroonland said. "Don't come to school sick in this environment."
Vroonland said the district asked principals to have students change classes walking in one direction only, look at ways to have kids spend time outdoors and distance as much as possible.
They’ve asked parents to put politics aside and respect one another.
"We have a child with peanut allergies we ask parents not to send their child to school with peanut butter sandwiches and they don't they respect it," he said. "What I'm doing is asking our community to seriously consider folks who are very concerned about the health of their children even if they aren't and please wear a mask."
Masks will be required for grades 4 and higher, but highly encouraged for everyone.
A more concrete plan should be announced by early August.