MARSHALL, Texas (KSLA) — After months of planning and preparing, the 5,400 students in Marshall Independent School District begin the new school year Thursday.
District leaders describe the huge effort it has taken to prepare for the return of students to the classroom and online through distance learning.
And Superintendent Dr. Jerry Gibson wants everyone to know that what they experienced with virtual learning in the spring is not how it will be this fall.
He’s getting the word out that there will be much more accountability going forward. Those who take classes online will be held to the same standards as students to attend class in person at one of the district’s eight schools.
Gibson also said that they’ve gone far beyond the mandatory face mask and social distancing requirements and that thorough cleaning is planned throughout a typical school day.
"We have, we're calling a victory sprayer. And it sprays and disinfects the room. Teachers can get that. And we're going to ask them to, you know, spray their own room a couple of times a day."
Despite all the safety precautions, some parents say they cannot remove lingering fears about COVID-19.
“It’s really worry about it because it’s a bunch of kids. And it think it, I know they’re going to has the prevention and stuff, but it’s still going to be the same...it’s scary,” Virginia Betancourt said.
The School District estimates nearly 30 percent of students will begin the school year in virtual-only classrooms, better known to many as distance learning programs.
Betancourt said distance learning is not a great option for her daughter.
"And my daughter don't want to get it online because she says it's too hard for her."
Internet hot spots will be provided for students who need help connecting online. But they must have access to technology to complete course work.
“And if a student isn’t logged in when that class starts, they’re considered absent,” Gibson explained.
“And when the student becomes a truancy problem, we file with our courts. We file on the parents for not requiring their child go to school. And we will be doing that again.”
Once a student has chosen whether to attend classes in person or virtually, they must stay with that option for the first six weeks.
The only exception: Any in-person student who violates the mask-wearing rule three times will instantly transition to virtual only.
Gibson said he and his staffers also have listened very carefully to questions and concerns from parents.
And because they went over the daily cleaning routine so thoroughly, that’s not the big question many have.
The number one question: “Do the children have to wear uniforms this year? ... They need to be in uniform still.”
Gibson said the next question is “What about virtual-only students? Do they have to wear a uniform.”
The answer to that, he said, is no, they don’t. But they must dress appropriately or it will be addressed.