Dallas ISD Will Rely on County Guidance on Reopening

The good news is that COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are, on average, trending downward. But the bad news is that the situation is still precarious. As schools determine best courses of action, and so do families, we have today’s bullet points.

  • Dallas ISD will rely on county guidance on reopening;
  • Officials warn that COVID is could become the second-leading cause of death.
Dallas ISD Will Rely on County Guidance on Reopening

Dallas ISD will wait one more week to announce whether the district will start the school year virtually on Sept. 8, or if on-campus instruction will also be offered.

District staff outlined more of the plans for the school year for the school board at Thursday’s briefing, but Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa told the board that it would be next week – after leadership meets with county health officials again – before he would announce what the first day of school would look like for teachers and students.

“I expect by next week we will make decisions based on health data depending on Clay Jenkins and his medical staff,” Dr. Hinojosa said.

HInojosa also said that he had been hearing rumblings around the state about some potential litigation regarding Attorney General Ken Paxton’s nonbinding legal guidance that county health authorities did not have the legal standing to order entire districts closed during spikes of COVID-19 in their area.

That advice led to the Texas Education Agency revising its stance on automatically funding districts who remain virtual learning only because of orders from their county. Now districts have a total of eight weeks at the beginning of the year to phase in on-campus instruction (meaning districts can start virtual only, and remain so for a while as they bring on-campus instruction on board), and can apply for additional waivers on a case-by-case basis.

New or clarified information from Thursday’s board briefing includes:

  • Principals will be given a fair amount of autonomy on deciding how many teachers they will need to teach on-campus, and how many could teach from their homes, or how many could teach on-campus but be leading virtual classes only.
  • Teachers will need to tell the district whether they are willing to return to in-person teaching by Aug. 21, and parents will need to indicate their preference – online or on-campus – by Aug. 25 (providing the county tells the district it’s safe to open campuses). 
  • Principals will also have the ability to work with staff that may need to work remotely when school starts, without the staff having to apply through the district to do so. 
  • Dallas ISD has chosen remote asynchronous learning, which not only means that every grade level will be fully funded by the state, but also that families will have a great deal of flexibility, since students won’t be sitting in front of a computer screen for an entire school day to receive instruction (we’ll have more next week on what remote asynchronous learning is, and how it works).
  • Parents who chose virtual learning will get a schedule for their child’s school day, with the times for real-time instruction pointed out so that students can be online and on time. 
  • If a school has more students returning to campus than it has teachers, the district is formulating a plan that will involve using more substitutes and even putting district administrators with teaching certifications back in classrooms. If the gap was too big, the district could also potentially reassign teachers from schools with less demand, or even ask students to attend a campus that had fewer on-campus students.
  • Students will now wear masks all day, instead of switching from masks to face shields when they reach their classrooms.
County Warns That COVID Becoming a Leading Cause of Death

COVID-19 could become Dallas County’s second leading cause of death soon, county judge Clay Jenkins said at a press conference Thursday.

That being said, cases are beginning to trend downward on average.

“Today you may notice it is a lot higher than yesterday, but when you look at the seven-day trends, they are going in the right direction. They’re going down,” Jenkins said.

The biggest issue is testing – the county’s positivity rate has been between 21% and 16%. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a positivity rate of 5%, and says that rate shows that testing is robust and those being tested are not only the sickest in the area.

“I’m hoping that people who are going back into a group setting will avail themselves to testing,” Jenkins said. “If all you’re doing is testing people who are sick as a dog, then you’re going to miss people who are asymptomatic.”

And while cases and hospitalizations are trending down, Jenkins said that changes in behaviors when it comes to taking precautions could cause the numbers to go back up.

“It just takes two or three percent of them to throw us all back into the frying pan,” he said Thursday.

The county also released its guidance for schools Thursday.

The county reported 641 new confirmed cases and an additional 109 probable cases Thursday, as well as 13 confirmed deaths and seven probable deaths, bringing the total confirmed case count to 56,428, with 807 confirmed deaths. 

Among the dead are a Garland man in his 30s, a Dallas woman in her 50s, a Farmers Branch man in his 50s, a Dallas man in his 50s, a Garland man in his 60s, a Dallas man in his 60s with no underlying high-risk health conditions, a two Dallas women in their 60s, two Dallas women in their 70s, a Dallas woman in her 80s, a Garland man in his 80s with no underlying conditions, and an Irving man in his 90s. Unless noted, all had underlying high-risk health conditions.

A third of all deaths are attributable to long-term care facilities, including a woman in her 80s who lived in a Dallas facility.  

More than 2,833 children under 18 years of age have been diagnosed with the virus since July 1, and 65 were sick enough to require hospitalization.

The county said that the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations Wednesday was 535 patients. Emergency room visits for COVID-19 symptoms also remain high, representing about 26% of all ER visits, according to information reported to the North Central Texas Trauma Regional Advisory Council.

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, Digital Editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Education Writers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the News Leaders Association, the News Product Alliance, and the Online News Association. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at bethany.erickson@peoplenewspapers.com.

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