By Bill Spinks
With on-campus classes canceled for the rest of the 2019-2020 school term because of the COVID-19 pndemic, school districts and institutions of higher education across the state of Texas know their buildings will be closed well into the summer.
Some schools have made plans to proceed with reopening in August, but that will depend largely on the decisions and assessments of Gov. Greg Abbott and local and state health officials.
Texas is a state that so far has caught only a glancing blow from the COVID-19 pandemic, with about 1,200 deaths and 43,000 infections as of May 15, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Those numbers are all well below national averages per capita.
Under the strong urging of President Donald Trump, Gov. Abbott has set in motion a process toward opening businesses back. So far, the reopening of schools has been placed on the back burner, being three months away.
But even so, some schools already have begun to discuss reopening their doors as America begins to emerge from public health measures put in place to fight the pandemic.
Southwestern Assemblies of God University announced in mid-May that it intends to resume residential teaching and residence life on schedule this August.
“This unforeseen pandemic has altered our lives, but with God’s help, we have overcome,” SAGU president Dr. Kermit Bridges said. “Victory is within sight. We look forward to welcoming both continuing and new students to campus and are expecting this academic year to be one of our best.”
Bridges added that as campus living returns, SAGU’s highest priority remains the safety and well-being of students, faculty and staff.
“We want to assure every student and parent that we are daily monitoring federal, state, and local public health orders and recommendations to guide us as we carefully prepare to return to on-campus learning and living,” he said. “We will share details … regarding the fall semester within the coming days and weeks.”
Likewise, Tarleton State University, which has an outreach campus in Midlothian, announced in early May that the school will be prepared for students to safely return for in-person classes this fall, with a start of Aug. 20. TSU president Dr. James Hurley said traditional settings and formats for some classes may look different depending on Center for Disease Control and Texas A&M University System guidelines.
Navarro College, which has satellite campuses in Waxahachie and Midlothian, will hold early summer term classes online only but is looking at a hybrid approach for the months of July and August, with these courses beginning on an online basis only as needed.
“At this time, we plan for campuses to be open this fall, with classes being conducted in all previous formats including face-to-face, hybrid and online,” district president Dr. Kevin G. Fegan said.
Texas State Technical College’s North Texas campus in Red Oak has already reopened its campus for those students who require hands-on instruction to finish out the spring semester. Students are required to provide and wear face coverings at all times, practice 6 feet of social distancing and follow safety procedures.
K-12 school plans
While local colleges and universities are already looking forward to reopening for the fall, a number of K-12 independent school districts in Ellis County are mostly taking more measured approaches. Some of these districts have adopted detailed plans to reopen, while others are opting to wait and see.
Midlothian ISD has launched a community task force to discuss educational options for the 2020-21 school year, but no details have been adopted.
“Our highest hope is that our students can return to school as normal next year; however, we recognize there are predictions for a COVID-19 outbreak in the fall,” MISD communications coordinator Jamie McNulty said. “In an effort to be prepared and implement the recommended health and safety guidelines, we recognize we need a team comprised of parents, teachers, principals and staff to plan and prepare for next year to be as proactive as possible.”
At Maypearl ISD, superintendent Ritchie Bowling said his district has come up with a few contingencies for how the district will reopen in the fall. However, Bowling added that at this time the district does not have a concrete plan to release, since things are changing weekly.
“We have 3-4 options that we are going to work from that have been discussed by the Texas Education Agency,” Bowling said. “It will require us to do a lot more in-depth planning as a district. We do plan to do more of that the first week of June, understanding situations could change over the summer.”
In the short term, high schools have finally received TEA guidance on graduation procedures and are moving forward with plans to reschedule ceremonies for their seniors. Life High School Waxahachie previously set its commencement for May 22.
Waxahachie High School has set Friday night, June 5 as the date for its graduation at Lumpkins Stadium at 8 p.m., while Global High School’s ceremony will take place on Saturday, June 6, also at 8 p.m. at the stadium. Waxahachie ISD has announced that social distancing measures will be in place throughout, and seniors will receive four tickets each for guests.
Meanwhile, Midlothian ISD set commencement for its two high schools at MISD Multipurpose Stadium, with Midlothian High School holding its ceremony on Friday and Heritage High School on Saturday. Red Oak High School will hold its graduation on Sunday, May 31 at 2:30 p.m. at Globe Life Field in Arlington, the new home of the Texas Rangers.
Ennis High School will graduate its seniors on Friday, June 26 at 7:30 p.m. at Lion Memorial Stadium; and Maypearl High School will hold its ceremony on July 9.