The start of the 2020-2021 school year seemingly went in circles for months due to COVID-19. Confusion and several different opinions surrounded the topic of returning to school with some saying they didn’t believe it was safe to return and others saying it was time to go back for the sake of education.
On July 21, local heath authorities issued a joint control order that stated all Tarrant Country schools were to strictly do online schooling until Sept. 28. In response to the order, on July 28, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton stated that in-person start dates were to be decided by school system leaders. After the General’s statement was released, Keller ISD sent a mass email to all parents, students and staff announcing that the original plan of starting the school year on Aug. 19, with both an in-person and online option, was back in place until further notice. As the start date switched back and forth, it led to anxious feelings regarding the school year for some.
“When the start date for school kept changing, it was really stressful for my friends and I,” senior in-person learner Sadie Becht said. “We were all already anxious because of everything that had already happened this year and the start date changing multiple times really did not help considering what everyone was going through.”
Along with students, educators were also stressed by having no settled start date. With the start date going in different directions, it was difficult to properly plan as several did not know how much time they officially had until school started both in-person and online. Many educators and Keller ISD faculty took to social media to express their frustration and opinions on how in-person schooling would actually work.
KISD held an emergency board meeting on Aug. 3 in response to the outcry from KISD parents, students, teachers and staff who opposed the Aug. 19 in-person return date. During the meeting, many protesters were seen outside the Keller ISD administration building and the surrounding roads with signs that backed their opinions on the start of school.
People who agreed with returning to in-person schooling wore green while those who opposed wore red. Teachers, staff members, parents and other community members attended the meeting to support which schooling option they agreed with. Many in attendance were able to ask questions and make comments that were also available for viewing via live stream. The Board proceeded to discuss the improvements they would make for in-person learning.
Several Keller ISD teachers and parents attended the meeting filled with different opinions on the matter. Former Timber Creek teacher, Daniel Ward, attended the meeting in opposed to the Aug. in-person start date.
“I think we’re not prepared, it is so hard to stay distant in the building,” Ward said. “…I would hate to be across from a classroom that is filled to capacity while I’m in an empty classroom teaching to a camera.”
Ward would later go on to resign from Keller ISD for personal reasons along with other teachers and staff members. Other Keller ISD teachers were seen with signs that had messages that showed disapproval of in-person learning.
One Keller ISD elementary school teacher who asked to stay anonymous out of fear that her essential job for her living would be at risk discussed how she was concerned for the young children she teaches.
“We’re all in an impossible situation and there is not one choice that will make everyone happy,” she said. “We have to understand that this is a pandemic, this isn’t an inconvenience. Viruses stay around for a long time and there is nothing we can do about it but social distance, wear masks, keep everyone as far apart from each other as we can and do what is best for the kids. I miss my kids so much, I miss teaching them in-person but if I really think about it, I start to get very emotional and I want to be with them in the classroom but I am not going to risk their lives for that.”
While there was a large number of attendees wearing red to oppose in-person learning, there were also a large group in green in support of starting in-person schooling right away. Some parents believed that returning was vital and pushed the board to stay put on their Aug. 19 start date. Along with those opinions, some also believed that masks were not safe to wear.
One parent who only chose to only go by Melanie to protect her identity, discussed her concern for her son and the effect that a mask would have on him.
“Our children need to be back in school, for mental health – we have higher suicide rates, kids doing drugs and just things that would not normally happen,” she explained. “As a healthcare worker, I’ve been on the front lines since this all started and I know many parents that need their children back in school. My son has asthma, it is difficult to breathe in masks and I do not believe in masks. I think they [masks] breed germs and to sit there in a classroom and wear one for eight hours a day is not healthy so I do not support wearing masks… A concern of mine for my son is having problems with the school for not wearing a mask, I am looking to see how we can handle that situation.”
Taking in each side’s stance, The Board made final decisions on how the start of school would look. Keller ISD later announced in the board meeting that the in-person start date would be pushed back to Aug. 26. The first three days would be early release days so students and employees could have an adjustment period.
LATE AUGUST 2020
As the first day of school came closer and closer, many raised concern about schedules. It was announced that schedules would be released the day before school, Aug. 25, at noon. Confusion surrounded many with the topic of how hybrid and online classes would work. A large number took to Twitter to find out answers. The Talon Twitter account, ran by Student Media advisor Greg Janda, eased several of those who were concerned, but questions still arose.
Talon held multiple #AskTalon events ahead of the August 26 planned opening date and created multiple posts about information as the school year moved closer. However, with so much information still being developed, announced, planned, reworked and adjusted, Talon’s original “Everything We Know About the 2020-2021 School Year” article eventually had to be archived due to how much had changed inside. Even the new article has details that have changed up through the start of school.
Then, on Aug. 25, after the new platform being used for schedules and grading called “Aeries” crashed, many were sent into an almost panic. Counselors and other staff members worked to resolve the situation and, after a few hours, schedules were released. A large portion of schedules were not correct and have now led counselors days into the school year to continually work to fix all problems, a situation that is still ongoing.
As students and faculty experienced their first days of schools with some online, back and forth for hybrid, and completely in-person, a feel for the new way of schooling as been put in place.
“The first day was actually not bad, to be honest,” senior in-person learner James Phan said. “It just kind of made me a little sad because it’s my senior year and I don’t get to see all my friends.”
While in-person learning as been an adjustment for many, those who chose the hybrid and online options have had to learn an all new way to getting their education.
“A part of me didn’t feel like schools were ready to open and the other part of me is just paranoid,” junior online learner Bren McDonald said. “At first online school was confusing due to schedule problems and Zoom meeting malfunctions but then it really taught me how to time manage a lot more and how to do stuff on my own and sort of make my own schedule.”
With students in different forms of learning, each experience is unique. Getting to the first day of in-person learning and school overall was difficult due to the odd circumstances but has been operational. While all are still adjusting to the “new normal” of the 2020-2021 school year, it’s safe to say that as the school year progresses, it is unknown what the future looks like.