DALLAS — Dallas Independent School District Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said COVID-19 is still too prevalent to safely bring the district’s 154,000 students and 22,000 employees back to school for in-person learning, so at least the first four weeks of the school semester will be fully online.
The district’s first day of school has already been pushed back to Sept. 8, the day after Labor Day.
“There’s not one indicator that says it’s OK for us to bring students in person,” Hinojosa said during an afternoon news conference. “All the medical professionals were unanimous in their recommendation that there should be no in-person learning on September 8.”
Dallas County Health and Human Services released updated guidance for local schools minutes before Hinojosa made his announcement.
The county guidance suggests all schools remain virtual for at least the first four weeks of instruction because of current rates of community spread of COVID.
“In my opinion [Hinojosa] made the spot on exact right decision,” said Eric Hale, a first and second grade teacher at DISD’s Burnet Elementary. Hale is the district’s Elementary Teacher of the Year.
He has spent much of the summer posting lessons for students online and taking virtual classes to improve his own knowledge of online teaching.
“As soon as the district can get the kids and staff back safely, I know they’re going to do it because we have to do it,” he said. “We’re not set up to teach all year online.”
Hale had reservations about returning to campus, but he said this decision from Hinojosa proves the district is listening to teachers’ concerns.
He’s also trusting the district to put the right safety measures in place whenever the return to campus does happen.
“My guess is after this initial four weeks, you’re going to have many more teachers, including myself, that will be willing to teach in person or online from the classrooms.”
Hinojosa admitted fall sports and extra-curricular activities for DISD students are now in jeopardy, as the decision to go online-only means no athletics, band, choir or theater practices can be held.
“It would be disingenuous to say you can’t come to school but it’s OK to come to practice,” he said.
Hinojosa said after the first 20 days of virtual learning, the Dallas ISD Board of Trustees must approve whether to extend virtual-only learning beyond four weeks.
Trustees do not share a unanimous feeling one way or the other, he said.
Hinojosa would prefer to make decisions on a month-to-month basis.
“We need to see our students,” he said. “We haven’t seen our students since March.”