Temperature Checks and Masks. This is How Fort Worth Students Arrived Back at School

 

On Monday morning, Rachel Saltsman did something she hasn’t been able to do in seven months: Drop her daughter off at school. 

Saltsman is eager for her daughter to finish the school year in person. She and her first-grader arrived at Overton Park Elementary at around 7:30 a.m., wearing masks. 

Her daughter was one of thousands of students who made their way into classrooms on Monday for the first time since schools shut down in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Fort Worth Independent School District, which has about 80,000 students, let families choose if they would continue with online or in-person learning.   

The return to classrooms signified the first step in Fort Worth ISD’s plan to restart in-person learning. Pre-K, kindergarten, first-grade, sixth-grade, ninth-grade, special education students and some seventh-graders were part of the first wave in the district’s plan to get back to in-person teaching. 

Fort Worth ISD plans to gradually allow all grades to return to schools by Oct. 19.

This is the first time students attended Overton Park Elementary — construction wrapped up earlier this month. 

The school’s mascot, an owl clad in school colors, greeted the students and sported a mask. Students, too, are required to wear masks at all times during the school day, except for lunch. 

As students filed into Overton Park on Monday, they were greeted with temperature checks and enthusiastic staff members. Plastic dividers sit between desks, and there are signs placed around the building reminding kids of the new rules. 

The district asks students and staff before they arrive at school, to self-screen for COVID-19 symptoms at home and to stay home if they’re not feeling well, said Clint Bond, Fort Worth ISD spokesperson. 

Saltsman said it was hard for her first-grader to sit in front of a computer all day. Now, her daughter can socialize with other children and get a better education from her teachers in-person, she said. 

With the safety guidelines the district has put in place, Saltsman feels it’s safe enough to send her daughter to school, but she still feels a little anxious and was eager to hear about her daughter’s first day. 

While schools are reopening, Fort Worth officials reported 45 active coronavirus cases among staff and six among students, according to district data as of Monday afternoon. Arlington Heights High School, Eastern Hills High School, Paschal High School and Polytechnic High School each have one active student case, while Diamond Hill-Jarvis High School has two, according to the data. 

The district will update student cases every Monday by 4 p.m., while staff cases are updated in real-time. In total, there have been 11 student cases reported and 104 cases among employees. More employees than students have been on campus since the start of the school year in September, when classes began online. 

In addition to the cases where an employee tested positive, since Aug. 17, 372 employees have reported being exposed to a family member or another person who had the virus, according to the district website. 

Data for this week shows that on Monday, 16 staff members reported being exposed to coronavirus, according to district data. Out of the 16, 12 are in quarantine.

Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Kent Scribner, who visited Overton Park Elementary on Monday, said children who get the coronavirus will be separated from others immediately, quarantined at home, and contact tracing will be done. 

If the virus spreads within a school, before making a decision to shut down a building, Scribner said officials would want to see if they could send the affected grade level or classroom to online learning first, but as always the district will consult the Tarrant County Public Health Department. 

With the excitement of schools reopening in Fort Worth, Scribner said it shows how important the public school system is for communities. 

“Reopening schools really signifies the reopening of North Texas and the state,” he said. 

On Oct. 13, second-, third-, seventh- and 10th-grade students who choose in-person instruction will begin classes, according to the district’s plan.