Fort Worth ISD to reconsider start to in-person classes

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The Fort Worth ISD school board will hold another vote Tuesday evening on when to begin in-person classes. Last week, the board rejected a plan to extend virtual classes only an additional four weeks.

The school board instead voted 5-4 to begin a "hybrid" system October 5, letting parents choose whether to send their kids to class or continue online learning. The board will vote again Tuesday evening and could choose to remain with that schedule or delay the start of in-person classes until November 2.

Monday, Mayor Betsy Price posted a video on Facebook in support of allowing kids to return in-person October 5.

"I believe these kids need to be in school," she said. "It must be done safely for our children and for our teachers, but adults need to be adults and make a decision that's good for our kids."

She spoke with three doctors at Cook Children's who said the district could develop protocols to return safely.

"People are going to need to understand the importance of having kids wear the masks, and that's really taken off this last month. That is much better than it was several weeks ago," says Doctor Mark Mazade, an infectious disease specialist.

Mazade says Fort Worth and Tarrant County have reached goals they set when they initially postponed in-person classes. He says he does not expect large changes in case numbers over the next two months.

He attributes spikes in cases to Memorial Day, Fathers Day and the Fourth of July. Mazade says schools can also help kids understand proper hand-washing techniques and the importance of masks.

"When kids go back to school, somebody's going to get COVID. There's no doubt about it, and we cannot just shut everything down the first time it happens," he says. "There's going to be exposures happening in our community that are going to affect kids in our schools, but that doesn't mean to shut down everything."

Susie Whitworth, another infectious disease specialist at Cook Children's, says additional data has shown the effectiveness of wearing masks. With kids staying home, she says she also worries teachers are not spotting signs of child abuse or kids who are malnourished.

"Those are two of the bigger things we worry about," she says. "We also worry that at home, they're not supervised and all of the bad habits that can develop when kids are alone. For a lot of reasons, not just to get back to school, there are many social reasons for safety and health, we need kids to get back to school."

Price mentioned a picture that was posted Sunday, showing Fort Worth School Board President Jacinto Ramos at the Dallas Cowboys game at AT&T Stadium.

"You can't go to football games, baseball games or parties and then ask your children to stay home," she said. "We have instances where people are going to the Cowboys game, taking their children and then lobbying us to leave them out of school. It just doesn't make much sense."

A petition at change.org calls for a return to in-person classes.

"Adding an in-person learning option as soon as possible (while still allowing for virtual learning), is the best course of action for our students, teachers and district," organizers wrote.

Through Tuesday morning, the petition had about 2,900 signatures.

Members of the teachers' union, the United Educators Association, are planning a demonstration at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday in front of district headquarters to call for online classes to be extended. Called the "Support Our Staff Rally," leaders with the UEA say Fort Worth ISD is not accommodating teachers who may have underlying conditions. They say a survey this summer showed just 35% of teachers feel comfortable returning to the classroom.

The Fort Worth ISD meeting will take place online, starting at 5:30. The meeting can be seen on Spectrum Cable Channel 192, on the district's YouTube channel or on Zoom with the passcode, 379314.

People who want to make a public comment during the meeting must register by 5:30 p.m. Tuesday by calling (817) 814-1956.