Students in one of the largest school districts in Texas will start the school year with a choice of on-campus or online classes, despite other districts keeping campuses closed until September due to fear of the Chinese coronavirus.

“We believe the best place for a child to learn is in the classroom with a teacher,” Fort Worth Independent School District Superintendent Kent Scribner said when announcing the district’s “Return to Learning” plans for Fall 2020 classes. “We also know our current public health crisis is making that a challenge. As of now, we plan to offer both in-person and virtual learning to our students.”

Scribner says online instruction for 2020-21 will be “robust, organized, and a consistent experience for all students.” And for those who choose in-person learning, “the health and safety of students, teachers, staff, and the community will be a priority.”

“Unfortunately, COVID-19 will still be with us when we return on August 17, and with it, uncertainty,” he said, adding the district’s plans remain “flexible to accommodate potential changes.”

Fort Worth ISD serves over 84,000 students at 82 elementary schools, 24 middle schools and sixth-grade centers, 21 high schools, and 16 other campuses.

Other North Texas school districts have announced they will keep campuses closed for now and start the school year with virtual classes only.

Last week, Dallas County’s health and human services director issued an order banning all on-campus, face-to-face classes at the county’s pre-kindergarten through grade 12 schools, both public and private, through September 7. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton later clarified that religious private schools need not comply with such local public health orders.

Suburban school districts in Allen, Frisco, McKinney, and Plano also decided to delay the start of in-person teaching until at least early September, limiting students to remote learning for the first three weeks of the school year or “until the public health situation improves.”

The announcements come as the Texas Education Agency issued updated guidance for the 2020-21 school year.

Earlier this month, TEA said schools “must provide daily on-campus attendance for students” as well as offer “virtual instruction,” but could “temporarily limit on-campus instruction” during the first three weeks of school. Last Thursday, TEA extended the amount of time districts may limit on-campus instruction and still receive state funding to eight weeks.

“Statewide, the majority of parents want their students to go back to school in person,” State Sen. Angela Paxton (R–McKinney) said Thursday, addressing the state’s updated guidance and decisions of superintendents in her district. “Most teachers and administrators I’ve spoken to believe instruction is most effective in person and is critical to regaining the lost academic ground many students have already experienced. As an educator and a parent, I agree.”

North Texas parents who want their children to have the same opportunity for on-campus learning as Fort Worth students have said they’re unhappy with their districts’ decisions. They’re planning to speak out at upcoming school board meetings and are even organizing rallies outside their local school district offices.

“Our kids matter!” said one McKinney ISD parent. “Let our voices be heard that our kids need to be back to school, learning in person.”

Fort Worth ISD will hold virtual townhalls on July 27 and 28 on the district’s “Return to Learning” plans.

Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard, reporting on state and local issues, events, and government actions that impact people in communities throughout Texas and the DFW Metroplex. A native Texan, Erin grew up in the Houston area and now lives in Collin County.