DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – With COVID-19 cases increasing in Dallas County, many Dallas ISD teachers are calling for a return to 100% virtual learning.

“Life and death are at stake here for many employees, many students, and many of our families,” said Rena Honea, President of Alliance AFT, the DISD teachers’ union.

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Honea says the teachers she represents are worried about the risks of continuing in-person instruction.

“Social distancing is a joke on many of our campuses,” Honea said. “It’s not happening. The facial coverings, the masks – they’re either not being worn, they’re seeing them worn inappropriately, either below the nose or even below the chin.”

Last week, Dallas County upgraded its coronavirus risk level to “red,” the highest it can be.

“From the public health standpoint, our guidance has been when we are at that red level of transmission, our recommendation is that there only be distance learning,” said Dr. Philip Huang, director of Dallas County Health & Human Services.

Dr. Huang says he understands it’s a complex issue for districts to make that call.

“We work with the schools all the time,” he said. “They’ve been doing a good job.”

According to DISD, “a 100% return to virtual learning is not an option per Texas Educational Agency guidelines.”

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Full statement from DISD:

“In the most recent update from the county health authorities, no recommendation was made for schools beyond ensuring that they continue to follow safety protocols. While Dallas ISD is taking extraordinary measures to ensure the safety of students, at this time a 100% return to virtual learning is not an option per Texas Educational Agency guidelines. To request a waiver to extend virtual learning beyond the first four weeks of instruction, Dallas ISD would have needed to apply by Oct. 5, when the county was at the orange level of infections. The agency now has restrictive requirements for districts to receive waivers, which are generally short in duration and includes a phased-in plan for in-person learning. For this reason, Dallas ISD is staying the course, offering the options of virtual and on-campus instruction. We remain committed to following the recommended safety protocols, including social distancing, wearing masks, hand washing, and sanitizing classrooms and facilities.”

Right now, school districts must offer on-campus instruction for any student who requests it. The TEA says this policy allows parents to make the final decision on their child’s learning.

Full statement from TEA:

“Under TEA’s policy, school systems must offer on-campus instruction for any student who requests it, and can choose to offer remote instruction in whichever grade bands they believe they can effectively serve through this method. However, this policy allows Texas parents to make the ultimate determination regarding whether it is in their child’s best interest to learn remotely or on campus. There is an argument from some educators that school systems should be permitted to determine what is the best instructional option for a particular student, regardless of the decision a parent makes on behalf of his or her child. While we understand these educators believe they are making this determination with a student’s best interest in mind, TEA’s guidance remains focused on a student’s parents being able to make the final decision for their child, taking into account input from their school.”

That’s why DISD says it’s staying the course, continuing to offer both in-person and online learning.

So is Garland ISD, which is also in Dallas County. Schools are preparing contingency plans though, should the state force another shutdown.

“We’ve just learned different ways to navigate what that would look like should we go back to that,” said Kerresha Strickland, a GISD elementary school principal. “We’re even more prepared for it this time around than we were in March when we had that extended spring break.”

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Caroline Vandergriff