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Dallas School District’s new teachers, 28 in all, spent Aug. 25 in orientation at the district office. The district is preparing for students to return to classes as COVID-19 cases spike throughout the state.

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DALLAS – Next week, Dallas Schools will welcome students back to classrooms full-time after a year and a half of online or hybrid school.

“We have a whole bunch of students returning,” said Dallas Superintendent Andy Bellando. “Our enrollment is staying strong, in fact it is up pretty significantly at the high school.”

He said enrollment at the high school might be 100 students higher than anticipated. About 100 students are enrolled in Dallas Virtual Academy, an online format.

“The response to that has been pretty good,” Bellando said. “We are in full throttle mode right now and we are going to be ready for day one.”

Part of that readiness is having a plan for dealing with COVID-19 exposures in schools as students will be spending more time in buildings.

Kim Kellison, the director of teaching and learning for the district, said that has been a lot of questions about the process for handling exposures to a student or staff member who has been diagnosed with COVID.

“There has been a lot of discussion around what happens if we have an exposure in the district,” Kellison said. “It’s really important that we understand what that process looks like.”

She said most of the time, the parents of a student who tested positive for the coronavirus would notify the school.

“That would be ideal, and if we weren’t notified by parents, we could be notified by Polk County,” she said.

That information goes to the district nurse, who will manage the case for the school district.

“When we have a case that comes into the district, they are communicating back and forth with Polk County about the case,” Kellison said.

Polk County is responsible for contact tracing, not the school district, but the school district will provide information to the county about any close contacts with a person who diagnosed with COVID -19.

Kellison said that the district does keep track of student contacts, and where people who are volunteers, contractors, and other guests go in buildings. Classrooms will have assigned seating, which could help limit exposure and prevent entire classrooms from having to isolate.

Kellison said decisions about how many students/staff members will have to quarantine after exposure is up to the county.

“If we have kids masked up like they are supposed to be, and we had an exposure in a classroom, we would tell Polk County, because we have a seating chart, who was closest to that student,” Kellison said. “It might not be the entire class that is quarantined if we mask properly and follow all of our safety procedures. We have a lot of safety procedures and mitigation measures that are in effect and we use those to help lessen the severity of quarantine and exclusions for students in that case.”

There are times when students might not be wearing masks, such as when eating lunch, Bellando said.

That could mean that students will be within six feet of each other and not using masks. Kellison said school staff have discussed using other rooms within buildings for lunch, but at this point, classrooms make the most sense.

“It’s a difficult problem. It’s a difficult problem to fix, and we want to make sure that we are doing school as normal as we can,” Kellison said. “We want kids to be engaged and have a great time and enjoys themselves, but we also want to tend to all of these safety measures. So, we are trying to find the most efficient methods available that will protect our kids and staff.”

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