‘Return to Learn’ out: GISD releases details of back-to-school plan, options

Gainesville Independent School District Superintendent DesMontes Stewart talks to members of the board of trustees about the district’s reopening plan Monday, July 20, at the district’s admin building at 800 S. Morris St.

Parents have until July 31 to decide how they prefer their child return to school, according to officials with the Gainesville Independent School District.

On Thursday, July 23, parents are to receive an email from the district with a form to complete to help campuses prepare for the upcoming school year, according to GISD’s Return to Learn plan posted to its website. The form asks parents or guardians to commit to on-campus instruction or virtual learning for their child’s return to school Aug. 19.

The at-home learning option was added for parents and guardians who are concerned with sending their child to school during the coronavirus pandemic.

“In order for GISD to finalize staffing requirements, we are asking that this commitment be made no later than 8 a.m. on Friday, July 31,” the online post says. “Your child’s schedule and teacher assignments cannot be finalized until we receive your commitment, so please consider completing the form as soon as possible.”

In a previous Register report, GISD spokeswoman Leslie Crutsinger said once a selection is made, the student has to stick with it for the duration of the six-week period which would be through Sept. 28. The exception would be if a student or staff member needs to quickly default to remote learning due to illness or a unique circumstance, according to the district.

Superintendent DesMontes Stewart told school board members Monday, July 20, that the district is constantly working on its plan to kick off the 2020-2021 school year.

“It’s going to definitely require a lot of hoops and hurdles that we have to jump over but we are prepared and ready to do so to ensure the safety and security of our faculty, staff and students,” Stewart said.

The pandemic is continually evolving, he said, and because of that, the district’s plans could change.

The Return to Learn plan unveiled by the district in more detail this week indicates most things, such as schedules and expectations, will remain the same for students learning either on campus or from home. However, it does state that “virtual academy students who take a class for which there is no remote teacher may need to virtually attend the in-building classroom for instruction. Similarly, students who come into the building for learning may need to virtually attend a remote classroom for instruction if the teacher is only available remotely.”

The district’s plan says that in those situations, an area will be available in the building for students to both social-distance and to access their class remotely.

Stewart said there has been a huge misconception with the virtual learning experience.

“What it looked like in the spring is going to look totally different than what it looks like in the fall,” he said. “ … I want to remove any misunderstanding that it’s a sit at home and work when you want to work. You have to work each and every day. You have to meet a certain minimum number of minutes that you have to work otherwise you’re counted absent.”

Stewart said the district is also asking parents to let school staff know whether or not their child will be taking the bus to and from school.

Social distancing measures put in place will allow for about half the students to ride the bus at once than previously, he said, which could require more bus runs.

Social distancing is staying six feet away from someone not in your immediate household.

Stewart said the district, like others in Cooke County, is facing a shortage of bus drivers. To offset the needed manpower, the district is pulling coaches to drive some of the buses in the mornings, he said.

Crutsinger said around 1,800 students rode the bus last school year.

March statistics provided by the district show there were 3,015 children enrolled in the district. March was the month students didn’t return to school following spring break because of the coronavirus spreading throughout Texas.

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