Underwood, Hurley talk school plans for fall

Ashley Inge
WFAA interviewed Tarleton State University President Dr. James Hurley to ask how the university is preparing to welcome students back in the fall.

The Texas Education Agency recently announced new guidelines for teachers and students returning to school in the fall.

Once the coronavirus reached Texas, many schools closed for the remainder of the school year in late March and transitioned to online learning.

For many parents and students, there was major uncertainty surrounding how students would be taught during the 2020-2021 school year.

On Tuesday, July 9, the TEA released guidelines stating that parents can choose to send their child to school or to continue with distance learning at home.

Teachers and students over the age of 10 will be required to wear a face mask while inside school buildings.

Staff, students and visitors will also be screened before being allowed on campus.

TEA stated that it will be providing school systems with tens of millions of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) supplies to school systems at no cost to Texas schools, as well as reimbursing districts for extra COVID-19-related expenses.

The E-T spoke with SISD Superintendent Matt Underwood who said the biggest obstacle that districts will face is the mask situation.

“The way that it is worded in the health regulations is, if you wear a mask, then that can protect you from close contact and that’s a big deal, because if you are in a class with someone who turned up positive for COVID-19 – symptomatic or asymptomatic –if you have a mask on, then you can continue to come to school and that has not been the case with previous department of health regulations so that’s a big change,” he said. “Right now, we’re leaning toward requiring masks fourth grade and up, just because we can continue to have school.”

Underwood said electives like horticulture and welding will not be able to offer virtual classes. He advises students to be aware that if they decide to do virtual learning, they will have fewer options regarding elective classes.

SISD will continue to have recess, with the district hiring additional custodial staff to clean and disinfect the equipment.

He said the school will also expand their seating options for lunch.

“We’re going to move tables on the stages in the cafeterias and we also might provide some outdoor eating opportunities,” Underwood said.

Once a decision has been made regarding whether a student will attend classes virtually or face-to-face, the student will be locked into that decision for at least six weeks, with the exception of a positive COVID-19 case.

According to Underwood, the tentative start date for classes for SISD is Wednesday, Aug. 12 for grades kindergarten through eighth and Wednesday, Aug. 19 for grades ninth through 12th.


WFAA interviewed Tarleton State University President Dr. James Hurley via YouTube about their reopening plan.

“As of now we’re planning on a full face-to-face return,” Hurley told WFAA. “That will look a bit different in terms of what students will have to adhere to in terms of face coverings. We have worked really diligently to ensure that classrooms and other common spaces will be properly social distanced.”

Hurley said that as far as residential halls go, students are currently housed two to each dorm room and the beds are already spaced about five feet apart.

“We’re really blessed that that social distancing component has already been put in place,” he said. “What we will not allow is for certain residence halls to have three or four students per room, so we have limited that to two. We feel very confident that our students will be safe and we can protect and ensure their social wellbeing.”

In terms of classes, Tarleton will now operate a Hyflex model where students can have the choice to learn face-to-face, watch the professor teach live online or watch former videos of the professor’s lectures so students can watch at their own pace.

When asked about if Tarleton would allow sports to be played in the fall Hurley said, “As of now, we think so...but that’s really up in the air and it’s going to be difficult to decide now.”

He said the biggest change that students will come across in the fall is having to wear a face covering in public spaces.

“We feel really confident that we have a good process and protocol in place to ensure that we have a safe opening,” he added.