WACO, Texas — In the coming days, thousands of Central Texas students will return to school for a new semester. But after several schools ended the fall semester closed, some parents are concerned about what may await their children in 2021.
Waco ISD returns to class January 5. Six of its campuses were closed during the month of December, but each one will reopen when students return.
"We're excited about having our kids back in school," Waco ISD Superintendent Dr. Susan Kincannon said. "Our teachers and staff have rested. We are ready to go again."
According to Dr. Kincannon, most of the issues within Waco ISD schools this fall occurred when a large number of teachers either tested positive for the virus or were forced to quarantine due to contact tracing requirements.
181 students and 207 staff members tested positive for the virus after attending classes in 2020. Eleven different campuses closed in the fall due to complications caused by the virus.
The district is still in dire need of substitute teachers. Dr. Kincannon says they have worked all year to bring in more substitutes, but a large number of the available pool do not want to take jobs where they may be exposed to COVID-19.
"We're still having a hard time filling those positions, and we expect to continue to have a hard time throughout the remainder of the school year," Dr. Kincannon said.
Some parents, like Katie Van Antwerp, say the fall semester was a struggle because of the inconsistency brought on by the virus. Van Antwerp's daughter was forced to quarantine due to contact tracing multiple times this fall.
"She goes back again, and I get the same phone call from the nurse for contact tracing," Van Antwerp said. "She's being sent home again. So, the back and forth has been difficult."
While the district is confident in its ability to stay open this spring, district leaders are unsure just what the new year will bring.
"I think it's hard to tell what's going to get better," Van Antwerp said. "There's still so much about this virus we don't know. We're still learning stuff. I know a lot of people are getting the vaccines."
Some rural school districts like Crawford ISD announced they are ending remote learning in 2021, pushing all students in the district back into classrooms. Dr. Kincannon says Waco ISD is not considering a similar decision.
In Killeen, each campus received a thorough cleaning over the holiday break to make sure they are ready for students to return.
"We have been through all these practices before," Killeen ISD spokesperson Taina Maya said. "We know there might be a refresher needed, and we'll be reminding students to make sure to keep the face coverings over their mouth and nose at all times."
To help teachers, Waco ISD also elected to add three additional teacher in-service days to the spring calendar, meaning students will have an extra three days off to give teachers the chance to catch up and plan for the days ahead.
The first in-service day will be February 26.