Some Fort Worth ISD students will return to in-person instruction on Monday under a plan approved by district leaders one week ago.
Optional, in-person learning for all students will start Oct. 19.
The plan, approved after a marathon meeting last week that lasted more than 10 hours, extended virtual learning by two weeks. However, various and special student groups can begin in-person instruction with the original Oct. 5 date as initially planned.
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This applies to pre-K, kindergarten, first, sixth and ninth grade students, as well as self-contained special education classes, who choose in-person instruction. Seventh graders at Rosemont, Wedgwood, McLean and Forest Oak middle schools who choose in-person instruction will also begin that day.
Katie Stadler is the parent of a first-grader who will be returning to in-person learning on Monday. Stadler has been involved in the debate regarding in-person and virtual learning over the past few months. She and other parents recently launched the "FWISD Bridging the Gap Together" Facebook group as a way to help provide teachers with supplies and PPE.
The group has raised nearly $60,000 to spend on teachers' wish lists, Stadler said. The idea came after she said she had a conversation with teachers at a protest before a recent school board meeting.
Stadler supported the choice of in-person learning. The teachers she spoke with that day were in support of extending virtual learning.
"It came down to the fact that they valued in person learning. They just didn’t feel comfortable and they didn’t feel like their school was prepared," she said. "So, I said…give me your phone numbers. Let’s get these kids back in school and let’s work together."
Richard Perez is a media production teacher at Polytechnic High School in Fort Worth. Under the new plan, teachers have been back on campus since Sept. 28 while still teaching virtually.
They have spent the past few days preparing their rooms.
“We’ve had a lot of training from our administration and a lot of direction on how that goes as far as spreading out our desks. Using the student dividers. We’ve been instructed on PPE, we’ve got boxes of it,” Perez said.
Second, third, seventh and 10th grade students who choose in-person instruction will begin classes on Oct. 13.
At the same time, trustees 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.
Clint Bond, a spokesperson for Fort Worth ISD, said masks will be required for students. There will also be multiple custodians in schools cleaning “high touch” areas like doorknobs and tables, Bond said.
“At the end of the day, there will be a more formal cleaning within the school. There will be the misting, the fogging. We’ll have that done every day as we go forward with this,” he said. “The biggest message that we have is monitor is your own health, monitor your child’s health. If you’re an employee and you’re not feeling well, please stay home.”
Steven Poole, executive director of the United Educators Association, said the approved plan was a “cautious” way to transition both students and teachers back to in-person learning.
“The expectation is for a teacher to teach both at the same time so for the students learning at home, they’re going to be learning right at the same time as the students in person. Teachers are also going to be recording that lesson, so the at-home students who may not be able to be there at that moment can watch it at a later time,” Poole said. “It is overwhelming and it’s going to be a big shift from what teachers are used to. They’re used to teaching the kids in front of them, so this is going to take a lot of support from the school district and a lot grace on everyone’s side.”
Poole, however, credited educators and their ability to adjust to an everchanging landscape.
“You put a problem in front of a teacher and they will solve it,” he said. “They are very creative and they’re tenacious too, so they’re willing to do whatever they need to do to make sure students are learning successfully.”
Teachers like Perez said they’re up for the unknowns ahead and are excited to see his students.
"It’s going to be really, really nice to see students coming in. It’s going to be different though. We’re not going to be close to each other. We’re pretty spaced out in class," he said. “We’re just going to make sure we do things the best way we can."
To learn more about the district's plans, click here.