Keene and Godley school systems, about an hour south of Dallas, are the first to open amidst the worldwide pandemic, and all of Texas – and the nation – are watching to see what happens next.
Great controversy has surrounded the reopening of schools, as President Trump has urged this additional step to return the country to its normal routine, while his medical advisors have cautioned that it might be too soon.
Individual states and school systems have been empowered with making their own choices about how to conduct school at the start of this new 2020-21 year, and the approaches are varied and ever changing. Tomball ISD has already made the decision to push back its in-person start date. Most school systems have opted to offer both traditional and online options and left the ultimate decision to parents as to whether they feel comfortable sending their kids back to school. Some have elected a hybrid model that provides a couple days of schooling within the building and the rest online.
There has also been widespread talk of alternative forms of education, some spurring new concepts such as micro-schooling, or bringing together a small group of students to be taught by a private teacher. Tutors and teachers are being offered their standard salary and sometimes more to teach individual students in their own homes, and homeschooling parents have stepped up to offer guidance and resources to those juggling both kids and jobs at home.
In the Keene and Godley systems, parents were given the option for online learning, but approximately 80% chose to send their children in on the first day of school.
Keene ISD school superintendent Ricky Stephens said of the first day, “Outside of the masks, it’s almost like a normal day. Kids are still kids. They’re still smiling at you. You can’t see their mouth or teeth. But you can see it in their eyes.”
The decision to open this week and move forward with traditional learning was based on what Stephens felt was best for kids. “With the absence of a cure or vaccine in the next month or two, we really didn’t see the difference in starting today, tomorrow or the next week because the health issue is not gonna go away. But we knew the mental issues are very prevalent.”
He feels that teachers are best equipped and trained to support students, recognize crisis situations, and just be another adult who loves them, and kids need that now more than ever.
However, concerns are being raised across the nation about the impact these decisions will have on the number of cases of Covid and the rising death toll as a result.
Gwinnett County School District, the largest in Atlanta, Georgia, returned to school a week ago for teacher pre-planning. On day two, 260 employees were restricted from returning to school after testing positively for Covid-19 or disclosing they had been exposed to someone with Covid. This raises a bigger question of how schools will respond when a teacher – who can be exposed to anywhere from 30 to hundreds of students a day – is diagnosed with the virus. First, there is student health and safety to consider. Second, the required 2-week quarantine period will create the need for a long-term substitute, something already in short supply.
In Corinth School District, the first to open in Mississippi, a high school student tested positive for Covid within the first week. Contract testing identified anyone who had contact with the student, and those families have been notified. The school continues to employ recommended safety procedures, including thermal screening, and about 80-85% of students have opted to continue their studies in-person.