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Growing COVID cases worry school superintendents

November 18, 2020 - 00:00
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  • Growing COVID cases worry school superintendents
    COVID-19 case data reported by public schools

Three months into the new school year and the data compiled by the state regarding the COVID-19 cases and quarantine numbers among school students and staff members remains tricky to organize and analyze.

Statewide, the vast majority of known cases among Texas public school students who have returned to classrooms were found in middle and high school students.

From late July through Sept. 27, Texas districts reported 5,725 known cases of COVID-19 among the more than 1 million of 5.5 million public school students attending classes in person. That is less than 1%, though the data is certainly an undercount. (The estimated number of students attending public schools in person has dipped slightly from a previously reported 1.1 million, due to data reporting and processing issues, the agencies say.)

About 4,132 staff members have reported COVID-19 infections over the same time period, though the state does not report or keep track of how many of the 800,078 total salaried, hourly and contracted school employees are back in person.

Locally, each school district has a COVID tracker on the home page of their websites, and superintendents have tried their best to keep lines of communication with the communities open.

The cases continue to inch upward, though.

On Nov. 12, Rice CISD had 13 confirmed positive COVID cases districtwide By Nov. 16, the count was 18 districtwide.

CISD had 2 confirmed positive active cases among students and 3 positive staff member districtwide.

Weimar ISD has been in Code Red since Oct. 29, and the district said they will re-evaluate after two weeks.

As of Nov. 16, Weimar ISD reported 2 active COVID cases at the high school, with 8 students and 2 staff quarantined; 1 active case at the junior high school with 3 students and 1 staffer quarantined and 2 active cases at the elementary school with 10 students and no staffers quarantined from that campus.

Code Red for WISD means positive cases and significant close contacts, and all students and staff from pre-K - grade 12 must wear masks all day.

On Nov. 10, WISD Supt. Jon Wunderlich issued the following statement: “Weimar ISD administration and board understand that there continues to be great uncertainty and anxiety associated with the impact that COVID – 19 has on our schools. We know that guidelines are constantly being adjusted, as protocols are being tested and data is disaggregated. So, we are relying on our direct communication with the Texas Department of State Health Services, DSHS, and Texas Regional School Administrators to set a threshold for potential campus closures. Weimar ISD has set a 20% campus threshold for quarantined staff or students, which is due to close contact or positive COVID test results, to trigger a closure of that campus. The count will be displayed, with our active confirmed counts, on the Weimar ISD website. These numbers will not include individuals with COVID like symptoms. The 20 percent thresholds: Weimar High School 38 Students or 7 Staff Weimar Junior High 41 Students or 6 Staff Weimar Elementary 55 Students or 9 Staff.”

All three Colorado County school district superintendents were present to address the Commissioners Court Monday, Nov. 16.

Rice CISD Superintendent Bill Hefner stated his school district has 70 individuals quarantined, and they are currently investigating several others. He emphasized that a number of staff members are out on quarantine on several campuses as well. He doesn’t want to shut down the schools but he may need to because of a lack of teachers and substitute teachers.

WISD’s Wunderlich told commissioners, “My position as superintendent is not about wearing a mask. It is about the student’s safety. I am responsible for every single person who comes into that building.” He further stated that as the rules were loosened, the confirmed positive case numbers went up. “Retighten the rules and the numbers will go down again,” Wunderlich stated.

“I have a Minor in Physical Education, a Major in Physical Education, and a Major in Administration. None of that has prepared me to make a life and death decision,” Columbus ISD Superintendent Jim Connor said when he addressed the court. In response to a claim that COVID does not affect younger people, Connor told the court there is currently a 25-year-old former CISD educator on a ventilator fighting COVID in an Austin hospital.

This set of reports provides an overview of COVID-19 cases in public schools in Texas.

• Cases in this report are defined as any staff member or student who participates in any on-campus activity that is test-confirmed COVID-19 of which a public school is notified.

• Updates for the previous Monday-Sunday are provided weekly by 5 pm CDT on Thursdays.

• Because data is self-reported by schools, local or publicly available information may be more up to date.

• Private schools are not included in this report.

• To protect individual privacy, case counts will be suppressed for any school district that has fewer than 50 students enrolled on campus. Suppressed cases will be included in the statewide total.

• All data are provisional and subject to change.

• Corrections may lead to data being updated with more accurate or complete information.