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5 things Dallas parents need to know before school starts

Masks updates, multiple start dates and other key takeaways for DISD families

Dallas students will head back to school in a few weeks — and some, as soon as Monday. After nearly 18 months of upheaval from the COVID-19 pandemic, district leaders have a message for families: “We’re ready.”

But they know families have questions for them, too — about safety protocols, the discipline overhaul, school supplies, uniforms, tutoring, bus transportation and more.

DISD officials are having a series of virtual forums this week, where they’ll dive into issues families care about before they send their children back to the classroom.

Here are five key questions and their answers.

When does school start?

It depends. Dallas ISD is rolling out three different calendars this year.

The majority of schools — including all high schools — will stick with a traditional calendar. The first day for those campuses will be Aug. 16.

But 41 schools will use an “intersession calendar,” which begins Aug. 9 and creates time for five additional weeks of instruction spread throughout the year. This model gives schools flexibility for helping students regain learning time lost during the pandemic. Not all students at those campuses will attend school during the extra weeks.

And a small number of schools — just five — will start school Monday as part of a “School Day Redesign” plan. All students at these campuses will get extra time in the classroom.

To find out which calendar your child’s school will use, visit dallasisd.org/calendars.

Will students wear masks in class?

That’s up to each family. Gov. Greg Abbott issued an order in May blocking Texas schools and nearly every other government entity in the state from requiring people to wear face coverings.

Abbott has repeatedly said he does not intend to shift course, even after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week recommended that all teachers, staff and students wear masks inside schools.

Assistant Superintendent Vince Reyes told DISD families during a Tuesday night forum that the district wants to follow all CDC guidance “as much as possible” and officials are recommending masks for all.

But when it comes to issuing a mask mandate, he said, “our hands are tied.”

“Please know that we’re going to continue to point to CDC recommendations as it pertains to mask-wearing,” Reyes said.

Schools will provide disposable masks for those who want them.

What other safety protocols will be in place?

Dallas ISD will offer rapid COVID-19 tests and partner with the Dallas County health department to do contact tracing if a student or staff member gets sick.

School leaders will also work to maintain at least 3 feet of social distancing.

Members of the maintenance department will continue to clean buildings daily and will do extra disinfecting work once a week. Air filters will be changed “on a more frequent basis,” Reyes said.

“We want to keep the safety protocols that helped us make it through last year,” he said.

Will there be a virtual learning option?

No, not for most Dallas ISD families.

The Texas Legislature failed to pass a bill that would’ve set up a framework for districts to get funding for online learning. The vast majority of districts across the state will be returning to in-person learning for all students.

“We’re excited about the opportunity of in-person instruction to begin to help your students get back on track,” Reyes said.

The district is opening up a hybrid school this fall, but it will only serve a small number of fourth- through sixth-graders.

There are currently seven full-time, online programs authorized to operate in what’s known as the Texas Virtual School Network. These schools are based in districts including Grapevine-Colleyville and Hallsville, but students from across the state can enroll.

Will the COVID-19 vaccine be mandated for students?

No.

The district can’t mandate that students be vaccinated against COVID-19, but it is working to help eligible students and teachers get the shot. DISD high schools hosted vaccination clinics this summer, including one visited by first lady Jill Biden.

Only children 12 and older are currently eligible for the coronavirus vaccine.

“We’ll make sure that staff and students are informed of vaccination opportunities,” Reyes said.

While a COVID shot isn’t mandated, students are required to be fully vaccinated against other diseases to enroll in public school. Routine childhood immunizations fell behind during the pandemic, and public health officials are encouraging families to schedule their kids’ shots in time for the first day of school.

The DMN Education Lab deepens the coverage and conversation about urgent education issues critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, The Meadows Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University and Todd A. Williams Family Foundation. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of the Education Lab’s journalism.

Connect with needs and opportunities from Get immediate access to organizations and people in the DFW area that need your help or can provide help during the Coronavirus crisis.

Talia Richman, Staff writer. Talia is a reporter for The Dallas Morning News Education Lab. A Dallas native, she attended Richardson High School and graduated from the University of Maryland. She previously covered schools and City Hall for The Baltimore Sun.

talia.richman@dallasnews.com @talirichman
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