Some Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD (C-FB ISD) students will return to class on Tuesday.
Following a more-than four-hour Board of Trustees meeting Thursday night, a motion to extend remote-only learning an additional four weeks to Oct. 5 failed by a 4-2 vote. Trustees Guillermo Ramos and Sally Derrick were in favor of extending remote learning.
Students who selected remote learning as their learning choice may still do so.
“This is not civil engineering … this is people’s lives,” Board President Nancy Cline said.
Derrick, a nurse, said she considered the impact bringing students, staff and teachers back would have and “choose to use science” as her guiding principle in her decision.
“I cannot support the return to school at this time,” she said.
Ramos said while he believes the district is doing everything it can, he cannot support the return to campus because “we just don’t know enough about (COVID-19).”
The trustees heard testimony from parents during the meeting, as well as read more than 100 emails from parents, students and teachers on the topic.
In their testimony, parents said they wanted a choice and voiced concerns over technical issues, with many noting their students are having difficulty finding and completing assignments through the digital programming. Others added the remote-learning environment has caused social issues as they have been isolated for months and since school began on Aug. 17.
Those who supported extended learning said it was simply not safe enough to go back, with many teachers supporting this claim.
Trustee John Matthews, who said he received more emails and texts in the past four days than he has in the past eight years as trustee, said this was the “toughest decision I have ever had to make” during his tenure at the district.
Matthews, who was an administrator in the district for 16 years, said one of the highlights of being an administrator was evaluating special education teachers and their students, adding he was touched by how those teachers connected with their students.
CFB ISD currently has around 3,500 special needs students, Matthews said, adding, “they need to be in school.”
Fellow Trustee Tara Hrbacek said all the concerns presented Thursday were “valid and reasonable” but appreciates that the district has protocols in place and the flexibility to tweak plans as necessary. She added that teachers should have the authority to report issues with social distancing and “nothing is off the table.”
Trustee Randy Shackman said he wrestled with the decision. His wife is teacher in the district and himself, a diabetic passed the age of 65.
“It makes a difference,” he said of the factors surrounding the vote.
While noting there is inherent risk bringing students and teachers back to classrooms, he is confident the district will enact immediate procedures should anyone be infected.
“We’ve got to do what’s good for kids,” he said.
Ramos added this process has given himself, and everyone on the board, a new appreciation for what the teachers do for the district.
“They’re putting their lives at risk,” he said.
CFB ISD Superintendent John Chapman said prior to the vote that 231 district employees called all students to find out if they want to return or continue remote learning. He added just three districts in the Dallas area with begin after Sept. 8 – Richardson ISD, Dallas ISD and Irving ISD.
Dallas County required all districts to go virtual for the first three weeks. Chapman added Dallas County lifted the order but felt it was best to “stay as close to a course” as possible and continue remote learning.
On Aug. 17 the Public Health Committee recommended for kids not to be in school. However, on Wednesday, that order was updated to allow for students in pre-kindergarten to second grade or pre-kindergarten to fifth grade, depending on student population, to attend classes in person.
Lance Hamlin, the district’s chief of school leadership, said principals have been working on re-entry plans since July. All campuses have submitted plans on social distancing, masks, transition periods, breakfast and lunch periods and various parts of the school operations.
He added the procedure may need to be revised to ensure the safety for all students and staff. Hamlin said the responsibility is on the campus for updating plans once students return, adhering to guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We’re going to do everything in our power to stay within these guidelines,” Chapman said.
He added that 35-40% of students would be coming back to the campus.
Hamlin said campuses have personal protection equipment, and the district received 7,010 desk shields in an order of 10,000. Shields have been dispersed to all elementary schools, as well as middle school and high schools. Hamlin said campuses will have to be evaluated to see which has the small numbers and can be easily social distanced. More shields will be placed in classrooms once they arrive.