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Trying times: North Texas school district officials, parents, students cope with cancellations amid coronavirus concerns

There is a sense of urgency and uncertainty as school districts across North Texas respond to this public health concern.

Early Monday evening, the Dallas Independent School District announced it would close indefinitely in an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus. By the end of the night, Richardson, DeSoto, Cedar Hill, Lancaster ISDs and others would follow suit. 

WFAA met Richardson ISD mom Dinda Alsaid while her son, 9, and her daughter, 10, played in their front yard. Her son Abe has special needs, and she was preparing him for this moment. 

"I kept talking to my son about viruses and disease and being disgusting and having to clean and that the school would have to close," she said.

Those instincts were right. And in Richardson ISD's case, they may have been planning for the worst as early last week, when they gave students like the Alsaids take-home devices so they can do schoolwork at home.

In Dallas ISD, crews are busy disinfecting and deep cleaning all campuses during this break. Behind the scenes, administrators in most school districts are planning for the unexpected.

Still, closing indefinitely is still a major decision with a million consequences and questions. One of the biggest is how will kids in need will get fed? Dallas ISD says it'll distribute meals at select campuses. Richardson ISD will share its plan for food service later this week.

But that scratches the surface of questions that we heard from many parents online. One asked what'll happen with graduation. Another wondered if school will get pushed into this summer.

We reached out to the districts for answers on those questions, but haven't yet heard back. It's highly likely that's probably because the administrators are still trying to figure it out. 

"I am actually a stay at home mom, so I have the opportunity to stay at home and help them with their work," Alsaid said. "But it's challenging when you're trying to help each child with their varying needs."

Some school district administrators say they are focusing on the immediate needs of families.

A large white tent and cones were set up outside Short Elementary School in Arlington ISD on Monday. The staff set up drive-thru lanes where students and families could pick up meals outside 23 campuses across the district. The meal distribution centers are providing daily hot lunch entrees and cold breakfast packs for students.

"It’s a real big help. Because most students, they eat at school and really don’t eat at home," Kevin Pipkin said.

The drive-thru system helps with social distancing plans. Steven Yancy walked to the meal distribution center with his two grandchildren. He made the outing an activity. The grandfather explained families are dealing with a lot of uncertainty.

“Keeping them occupied is certainly important,” Yancy said. “Parks are empty. School’s closed. We don’t know what to do really.”

There is a sense of urgency and uncertainty as school districts across North Texas respond to this public health concern.

Arlington ISD Superintendent Marcelo Cavazos said there’s no telling how long schools will be closed.

"We’ve also been in discussions that this may last longer, longer than two weeks, and up to and through eight weeks as well. So, we are prepared for that type of extension as well," Cavazos said.

These times are challenging for schools. However, it’s a challenge some administrators believe the community will overcome.

Click here for a full list of school closures and cancellations in North Texas.

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