DRIPPING SPRINGS, Texas (KXAN) — The ever-changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic made the Dripping Springs Independent School District work quickly to provide a new, yet familiar option to families before the new school year begins on Aug. 17.
Because of rising case counts locally and demand for parents, the district added a virtual option for students in kindergarten through sixth grade — the school-aged population that cannot get vaccinated yet.
“We have about 200 students who have taken that [virtual] option, and right now we are working on staffing that,” Superintendent Dr. Holly Morris-Kuentz said. “That will run just a little bit different than our in-person learning that will start one week later. That will give us both the opportunity to staff that and then also the opportunity for us to provide some professional development for that new staff.”
Morris-Kuentz, who became superintendent in May, said one teacher will cover each grade level to provide virtual instruction. Most students, however, will return to classes in person. The superintendent said the district is following the guidance from the Texas Education Agency and only encouraging students and staff members to wear masks at this time.
She outlined families will have the ability to opt out of certain activities if they feel they’re unsafe due to COVID-19. That includes allowing parents to transport their children to field trip destinations instead of riding the bus or skip those entirely for alternative activities instead.
“We have added outdoor seating for lunch so that families can let their students eat outside if that’s a preference for being in more fresh air and having them do some distancing,” Morris-Kuentz said. “We’re trying to add in the things that help families feel like when their student comes back to school that they have a little more control over what that environment may be like for their student.”
Hays County has not reinstituted a mask mandate like nearby Travis County has. However, the board of trustees at San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District voted Thursday to require masks for students and staff members, mirroring a move other districts have taken recently.
Morris-Kuentz said she would have to consult with district counsel as well as the school board to decide what to do if Hays County leaders mandate mask wearing at public schools there.
“Certainly, school districts are a little bit in the middle here,” she said. “We don’t have local control, so we don’t have the ability to really make those decisions ourselves. I don’t actually know who supersedes. That’s fresh from yesterday, and so we’re kind of like the rest of the state watching to see how that unfolds.”
Morris-Kuentz told KXAN the debate happening right now puts both the district’s employees and families in a confusing place.
“We’re just looking forward to having students back doing our best to have high-quality academics for them when they come back into our classroom, and then trying to keep our finger on the health in our building, so that we know how to respond and how to make adjustments as we need to,” the superintendent said.
Morris-Kuentz said some other changes this school year include the addition of two new campuses.
“We have Cypress Springs Elementary, which is our first school in Driftwood opening soon, with just over 500 students,” she said.
Walnut Springs Elementary will also have a new look next to Dripping Springs Middle School, which is also getting an upgrade.
“We will have three campuses that are fresh with updates and excited to welcome back new learners,” Morris-Kuentz said.