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SISD board votes to keep start date at August 24 for in-class learning

Local school districts have given a mixed reaction to last week’s Denton County Public Health’s (DCPH) recommendation that schools delay in-person classes until at least Sept. 8.

The recommendation came after state officials made clear local health authorities cannot issue a mandate closing schools to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. That power remains with school districts.

Denton and Lake Dallas ISD districts are most closely adhering to DCPH guidance, also have the latest first days of school planned.

Both districts plan to start the 2020-21 school year on Wednesday, Aug. 26, meaning students would be missing eight in-person days of class to fall in line with DCPH’s recommended start date of Tuesday, Sept. 8.

Aubrey and Argyle ISDs, both of which lean further from county recommendations, are set to start Aug. 17. Krum ISD starts back Aug. 12.

During school board meetings last week, Argyle and Krum ISDs decided they will continue ahead with a hybrid model that gives families a choice between remote or in-person learning.

Taylor Poston, a Krum ISD spokesperson, said a survey the district sent out in early July showed the families of roughly 72% of students wanted in-person classes.

She said the district sent out another form to parents last Wednesday. As of Thursday afternoon, 84.5% of respondents favored in-person classes.

Sanger ISD voted, as well, to keep their start date at August 24 with the option of on-line and in-person classes. Sanger ISD Superintendent Dr. Tommy Hunter sent out a Commitment Survey on Tuesday to families to finalize the number of participating in-person students.

Argyle board members made the decision following a lengthy presentation and Q&A session with Denton County Public Health Director Dr. Matt Richardson during last weeks meeting, as well as a closed session that stretched to nearly two hours long. The vote to continue ahead as planned before the county’s guidance was unanimous. Most board members seemed to agree with Richardson, who holds a master’s and a doctorate in public health, about the state of the pandemic in Denton County.

Board members seemed to depart from him when it came to the virus’s threat level in Argyle, despite Richardson’s insistence that virus hot spots are not as trustworthy of a metric at this stage of the pandemic.

John Bitter, a board member and Argyle veterinarian, questioned Richardson about what he called “the core of the problem” with school closings — there are more factors involved than purely the pandemic.

“It’s a very nebulous thing, and it’s very hard for anybody to ... weigh because sometimes when I hear health officials talk, it’s like they’re only talking about the consequences on the health side,” Bitter said. “Our job is to weigh the other side, as well.”

He told board members and others listening he can’t provide a complete list of pros and cons. Schools boards are in an unenviable position, he said.

Bitter went on to say a school board moving against the guidance of health officials looks to the public as if the board isn’t listening to expert advice.

“But what’s so important that I think this board understands is everything you’re saying is spot on — really good health information,” Bitter said. “It’s not the only issue.”

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