By Robbie Owens

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – On campuses across Dallas ISD Monday, August 16, bright eyes convey typical back to school excitement– even behind masks.

But Covid-19’s continued spread means there’s worry as well.

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So Dallas school leaders aren’t apologizing for taking steps to keep their roughly 143,000 students safe.

“This has become a political football,” says Supt. Michael Hinojosa, “and unfortunately our families are in the middle of it. And we’ll keep working our way through it.”

Even with the mask mandate, the district is still preparing for the virus’ inevitable spread.

Right now, most of the district’s active Covid-19 cases are among staff, so the district is offering a $500 incentive for employees to get vaccinated, while encouraging eligible students to do the same.

“Really, it’s a game-changer,” says Jennifer Finley, Dallas ISD’s Director of Health Services.

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Finley says families can expect more of the same protocols that last year helped to limit the virus’ spread, like cleaning, sanitizing and ventilation.

Plus, rapid testing will be available on campuses this year and the contact tracing will continue as well.

Parents are being directed to the district’s online Covid-19 dashboard to monitor confirmed cases on each campus.

“We do notify parents of positive cases,” explains Finley, “and then any student that is deemed in close contact receives a separate message with instructions from their campus nurse.”

District leaders say everyone can play a role in keeping campus communities free of Covid-19.

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“If you have symptoms,” reminds Finley, “please do not come to work or school. Get tested. That will be a huge help.”