Dallas school officials want all seniors — as well as high school students who have fallen behind — to return to in-person classes for the rest of the school year..
Administrators will discuss the plan with trustees at Thursday’s board briefing, but steps are already underway to get the district’s 8,800 seniors back to campus by April 12, the start of the final nine-week grading cycle.
“We started looking at how we could get more students engaged in the district, especially as we saw COVID numbers go down,” said Mark Ramirez, deputy chief of school leadership.
In February, district officials said that one in every five DISD high schoolers — roughly 9,000 students — had stopped attending classes with any regularity.
Nearly a fifth of Dallas County’s population ages 16 and older are fully vaccinated, and COVID-19 cases across the Dallas/Fort Worth area have continued a downward trend over the past month.
The district distributed a survey last week, asking high school parents their comfort level for their children returning to face-to-face instruction. Meanwhile, campus and district leaders are determining how much space individual schools will have for a select group of at-risk students who will also be asked to return.
Most DISD high schoolers haven’t returned to in-person instruction since the district reopened campuses in October, although those numbers have seen a small and steady increase over time.
Right now, 43.7% of DISD’s 40,000 high school students are in face-to-face classes, but those students are only at their campuses two days a week.
The “Finish Strong” campaign would have returning students — and those who have already selected in-person instruction — at their high school campuses five days a week. Underclassmen in virtual classes would not be asked to change their preferences.
Ramirez said the district would have ample space at its schools to accommodate the increase, without altering its social-distancing measures.
Kimball High School, for example, has 1,422 students enrolled, but only 489 students on campus throughout the week. That campus could serve 1,067 students given social-distancing guidelines, Ramirez said. That’s more than enough space to house the school’s 320 seniors.
By getting seniors back, the district is hopeful that it can provide enough help so that its graduation rate isn’t too far off the typical pace, which was at 88% in 2019 for those finishing in four years. Getting enough “seat time” — required minutes logged in class — would be a big hurdle for many students, Ramirez said.
Unlike last spring, DISD is planning to hold both in-person graduation ceremonies and senior activities, such as prom. Ramirez hoped that both events would incentivize students to return.
Sheila Walker, a community liaison at Lincoln High School and the president of teacher union NEA-Dallas, called the district’s step “a good thing.”
“We’re pulling. We’re begging. We’re doing everything we can to reach out to our seniors and get them reengaged,” Walker said. “We need them ‘doing,’ and right now, our seniors are not doing.”
For those unwilling or unable to return, Ramirez said that individual campuses would work with those students on a case-by-case basis in order to keep them on track. No decisions, however, have been made on whether the district would pursue compulsory attendance under the state’s truancy laws for those who declined to return, he said.
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