Beginning Wednesday, the Fort Worth Independent School District will offer parents the option of choosing between in-person and online instruction for their children for the upcoming 2020-2021 school year.
With the first day of classes for Fort Worth ISD scheduled for Aug. 17, parents will be able to make their decision beginning July 1.
“In May, we asked all stakeholders for their feedback,” said Superintendent Dr. Kent P. Scribner. “Their thoughtful responses informed our decision to provide quality options for every student and family and their particular needs.”
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But when school starts in the fall, all teachers will return to the classroom, regardless of what parents choose, meaning virtual online instruction will look very different from what it looked like in the spring, Scribner said.
"All Fort Worth ISD teachers will report to work at a school," Scribner said. "Whether they are teaching in-person or online, or both, they will do so from a classroom setting and engage over the course of a usual school day."
The district said the online experience will be more robust than in the spring and will reflect "new professional training" with "higher expectations for both educators and students." The in-person instruction will follow strict guidelines to protect the health and safety of everyone on campus.
The district said additional information about both online and in-person instruction will be shared in the coming days, before parents can make a decision on July 1.
As parents and educators await more information on what the fall semester could look like, Steven Poole with the United Educators Association urged patience and grace from everyone moving forward.
"Grace is a two-way street, too. The superintendent and school board needs to show grace to parents and students and staff too," Poole said. "There’s going to be a lot of unknowns. Plans will change, and we’re just going to have to be adaptable and show grace to each other."
The association represents about 26,000 teachers and public school employees, Poole said.
"Everyone wishes we could start school normally. Every student and every teacher would be in their classroom, but we know that’s not going to be a possibility so we’re going to have to make the best of it," he said. "This, I know to be true about teachers. You throw anything at them, and they’ll be able to handle it and adapt on the fly. Virtual instruction is not optimal, but if that’s what has to happen for some students then they will make sure it gets done."
The option for either online or in-person instruction came after the district asked students, parents, teachers and administrators last month to share their opinion on each in a survey. Of the roughly 35,000 responses, the district said 52% favored traditional in-school instruction over online or a split schedule.
The biggest obstacle teachers cited for remote learning was the lack of barriers at home and the lack of a quiet workspace. They, along with administrators, also expressed concern about returning to campus too soon.
Students, meanwhile, were most concerned about getting sick and falling behind in classes while parents, along with teachers and administrators, were concerned about the availability of disinfecting materials.
Scribner told NBC 5 on Wednesday, deep cleaning measures will be done in schools both over the summer and fall.
He also added they were preparing for other possible scenarios in terms of instruction.
"Sometime during the fall semester, we’ll reevaluate," he said. "A lot can happen between now and August 17, the first day of school. A lot can happen between now and the Christmas break. We may be returning to an all online scenario if the coronavirus wave continues. "