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Waskom ISD superintendent explains decision to close elementary school Aug. 16-20 due to COVID-19

Closure is having some impact on attendance at Waskom Middle, Waskom High, both of which remain open
Waskom Elementary School
Waskom Elementary School(KSLA)
Published: Aug. 16, 2021 at 9:54 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 16, 2021 at 10:27 PM CDT
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WASKOM, Texas (KSLA) — Waskom, Texas, ISD leaders decided Sunday, Aug. 15 to close the district’s elementary campus Aug. 16-20 due to the number of staffers out with COVID-19. In a Facebook post, the district said the decision does not impact the middle and high school campuses.

“When we started getting phone calls that we had staff members that were ill and that were going to be tested for COVID, we decided that we had enough to close down our elementary in order to clean, to disinfect and to get our students and staff to separate and quarantine from each other for the week until we could come back together until next Monday,” Superintendent Rae Ann Patty explained.

“It would give us enough days to quarantine from each other and, hopefully, open up schools and resume with business as usual.”

Patty said she doesn’t know how many staff members tested positive for the virus; some are still waiting for their test results.

“I wanted to be very cautious,” Patty said. “With the rules changing this year and the regulations and protocols from the Texas Education Agency and the governor’s executive orders, we just want to make sure that we stop this before it spreads to far.

“That was our purpose in sending the teachers and students home, to keep them safe and to stop the spread from happening,” she continued. “Our main intention was for them to be safe. That will always be our number one priority when it comes to our staff and students.”

On Aug. 5, the Texas Education Agency released it’s 2021-22 Public Health Guidance to Texas schools. If an individual who has been in the school tested positive for COVID-19, the school has to notify its local health department and submit a report to the Texas Department of State Health Services. If a student tests positive for COVID-19, they cannot return to school unless DSHS conditions for re-entry are met.

According to the TEA guidelines, school systems cannot require students or staffers to wear a mask per Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order. School systems can allow individuals to wear a mask if they choose to do so.

School systems also can provide COVID-19 testing on staff, as well as students with the written permission from their parents or guardians.

TEA guidelines state that ‘given the data from 2020-21 showing very low COVID-19 transmission rates in a classroom setting and data demonstrating lower transmission rates among children than adults, school systems are not required to conduct COVID-19 contact tracing.

If school systems are made aware that a student is a close contact, the school system should notify the student’s parents. Parents of students who are determined to be close contacts of an individual with COVID-19 may opt to keep their students at home during the recommended stay-at-home period.’ The TEA says individuals who are vaccinated are not considered close contacts.

“This year, the big major change is that our staff and our students cannot be quarantined for close contact,” Patty said. “That’s done by the parents of the students. Therefore, we want to notify our parents what’s going on and keep them informed on things happening here at school. We started notifications today to let them know who had been in close contact and who had not. I’ve had several parents call and ask me today.

“It’s difficult because we have HIPAA laws as well, so we cannot give out students and staff names, but we can tell them if they have been exposed or not,” the superintendent added.

“I think one of the things that allowed it to spread a little faster than it did last year is that we can’t quarantine kids. So that’s been tough for us. We are hoping the TEA or the governor will take a look at that and allow us to quarantine some students for close contact. But right now, we are not doing the contact tracing and are not able to quarantine.”

Waskom ISD’s middle and high school campuses will continue classes as normal. So far, Patty said, no student has tested positive for COVID-19 where they have had positive COVID-19 cases among faculty members and staffers.

“We have seen some attendance drop at the two campuses because parents have younger children and maybe have decided to keep the students home because they are afraid the younger student has been exposed,” Patty said. “We are going to see how that goes.

“We hope to continue to keep those open. But if the numbers drop, then we will shut those campuses down as well because it is about keeping our staff and students safe and well.”

This week, the elementary building will be sanitized. The superintendent said they have cleaning protocols set up on all the district’s campuses that will remain in place.

With TEA guidelines only allowing 20 days of virtual learning this school year, Patty said the elementary kids will have this week off and will not have to make it up. However, the teachers will have to make up the days.

“Unless there is a waiver for extenuating circumstances, it’s only allowed 20 days out of the school year,” Patty said. “We are trying to be very cautious with that. So this week we took the minutes out of our calendar.

“We had seven banked days in our calendar. And, hopefully, there might be a waiver that comes from TEA later if you have to close down because of COVID. But regardless we have to do what’s best for our students and our staff so we are going to be closed down.

“I want to reassure our community that we will not be the only ones in this situation, we’re just one of the first ones because we opened up so early,” Patty explained. “All the school districts are having to go by these same rules and regulations.

“When you can’t quarantine close contact kids, that allows things to spread sometimes. We want everyone to know we are doing everything we can be keep our buildings safe and clean and protect our students and staff.”

In the social media post announcing closure of the elementary campus this week, Waskom ISD states: “At this time, these days will not be required to be made up. However, if we have to close the elementary school again, the time will need to be made up during the school year or at the start of summer.”

ELSEWHERE:

COVID-19 also is impacting other school districts in the ArkLaTex.

Bloomburg, Texas, ISD has closed all of its schools Aug. 16-20.

And in McCurtain County, Okla.:

  • Bettiest Public School has canceled classes and gone virtual for the week of Aug. 16 due to an increase in COVID-19 cases, and,
  • Eagletown Public School held classes Monday but will be closed the rest of the week “due to lack of teachers and overwhelming number of staff/students who have tested positive over the weekend ... .”
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