Panola County school districts are starting to finalize their return-to-school plans now that the Texas Education Agency has released guidelines for holding classes amid COVID-19.

More information is expected to be released in the coming weeks as the start of school approaches. Beckville ISD did not have information on their plans because Superintendent Devin Tate was on vacation this week, the district said.

On Tuesday, the Texas Education Agency released comprehensive guidelines for the 2020-21 school year so classrooms can safely open after being shut down since March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The guidance says daily, on-campus learning will be available to all students whose parents want them to be on campus.

Parents will have the option to choose distance learning for their students before classes start in the fall or at any point in the school year, though they could be asked to commit to that approach for an entire grading period.

Districts also have the option to phase school in, according to TEA. Districts can phase in students for up to the first three weeks of school.

A statement from TEA said parents and educators should expect to see some campuses close for “brief periods of time” during the upcoming school year because of the nature of COVID-19 pandemic. TEA says districts must follow mask guidelines, though counties with fewer than 20 active cases can opt out of the requirement, in accordance with Gov. Greg Abbott’s order.

The agency also said it is providing support for schools reopening. Some of that includes providing personal protective equipment to schools, reimbursement for 2019-20 COVID-19 expenses, free online learning tools for remote learning, teacher training at no cost to the school and statewide efforts to bridge the digital divide between students who have access to technology at home and those who do not.

Carthage ISD

Carthage ISD Superintendent John Wink said the district is looking forward to the first day of school, Aug. 12, with both face-to-face and at-home learning options.

The district had previously said it would provide both — and as a last resort potentially alternating days — before TEA released its official guidelines. Wink said the district’s updated plans would be given next week.

“Again, I would like to stress that our No. 1 priority is educating every child in a safe environment,” Wink said. “It is also our intent that we partner with all parents in meeting the needs of their children. The Carthage community has been extremely positive and flexible with all of the challenges the school has been presented since March 13, 2020, and we sincerely appreciate your support. We ask for your continued patience, understanding, and grace as we adapt to a decision that was presented before us.”

One thing has already been announced by Wink: Face masks will be required in accordance with the guidelines put forth in Abbott’s order and by TEA — although Wink noted the guidelines are subject to change as local, state and federal guideline changes are received.

Wink said the district has purchased neck gaiters for all students and staff to wear. If parents or students prefer regular face masks, TEA will be delivering those to the district in the coming weeks.

Wink said all staff would be required to wear face masks, and all students would be required to do the same inside the district’s buildings and vehicles. Visitors to campus would also be required to wear face masks. Extracurricular organizations will follow UIL mask guidance.

Gary ISD

Gary ISD says school will start Aug. 12, with a Meet the Teacher night planned Aug. 10 from 5 to 6:30 p.m.

Students 10 and above must bring their own reusable mask from home each day. The state has not yet released requirements for social distancing, but the district says it will monitor and work to prevent large gatherings. Buses will run at their regularly scheduled times, but to limit the number of students in close proximity for an extended time, parents are asked to bring their children to campus if possible.

The district will also provide a virtual learning mode of instruction for any students that aren’t comfortable returning to campus. The virtual learning will be synchronous online instruction where students will attend their classes all day from a remote location, and they must be seen on the web camera for attendance purposes. Students may continue this virtual mode of instruction for the entire six weeks grading period.

Students may rent a Chromebook or iPad for use at home from the school. Those who do not qualify for free or reduced meals have to pay $50 to rent the devices. The devices will not come with internet access, and the district will not provide internet access. Remote students must have the ability to livestream and maintain active internet access for the entire day. In order for students to participate in remote learning, parents must request it with the Synchronous Online Instruction Request form on the district’s website or by contacting the campus principal by July 29.

Hand sanitizer stations will be placed throughout the school and in classrooms, and the district will continue daily use of the multiple electrostatic disinfectant foggers purchased last year on surfaces, classrooms and transportation. The district will limit any large school group gatherings such as school assemblies.

The Texas Education Agency currently allows parents and other adults to visit the school only if they wear masks and if they visit is essential, so the district is asking parents to restrict their attendance at lunch and breakfast with their children.