By Eden Shamy
Back-to-school in the Denton Independent School District kicked off Aug. 12 with crowded hallways, unmasked faces, and classes that had double or even triple the number of students than they had the previous year.
It was the return of learners to the physical classroom. Although the increased population and ability to see each others’ faces sparked energy in the school environment, not all students originally intended to return this year.
When the last school year came to a close, Denton ISD had already been gearing up for another year, which would provide both in-person and online instruction.
Dr. Nicole Jund, Guyer High School freshman principal, said it was the dream “to have two systems [online and in-person] walking alongside each other.” Based on the understanding the district would continue to receive state funding for an online program, enrollment for Denton ISD’s new virtual academy began in April.
To the dismay of many, the Texas House Bill that would have provided the necessary funding for online programs failed to pass.
The bill was refiled Aug. 10, but schools across Texas have yet to know its fate. In the meantime, the district requested a waiver from the Texas Education Agency that would allow them to continue online learning under the current state funding formula.
This, too, was denied, and the district resorted to using Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER, funds to finance the Denton ISD K-8 Virtual Academy.
Superintendent Dr. Jamie Wilson said the K-8 academy currently has an enrollment capacity of less than 1 percent of students in the district.Additionally, the district has yet to finance any form of online program for students at the high school level, leaving last year’s online learners with one option; return to school in person.
“It’s unfair to force high school students back into in-person learning,” said Elisha Bowman, a senior at Guyer High.
Bowman was one of 11,000 students districtwide who were taught in a virtual environment last year. He said his chief concern both then and now is COVID-19 and how it may affect his parents. Bowman said he is anxious now that he has no choice but to face the virus on a daily basis.
“The state will only contribute to the rise in cases by denying online learning,” Bowman said. Wilson talked about similar concerns in front of the Texas Senate Education Committee on Aug. 10.
Wilson said there are “more and more people interested in keeping their children safe,” but unfortunately without funding by the state, the district is unable to mandate masks or find further means to prevent the spread.
Jund, the Guyer High School freshman principal, said there are still hopes for the district to “get creative” with its funding and form an innovative online program for high schoolers in the years to come.