The surge in Delta COVID-19 variant cases has many wondering about the return to school this fall.
With children under 12 still ineligible for a vaccine and some area districts already seeing case numbers as they return to class, Coastal Bend communities are concerned as the pandemic continues.
Each school district in the Coastal Bend has, or is working on a back-to-school COVID-19 contingency plan.
We asked Calallen Superintendent Dr. Arturo Almendarez some questions about the district's return to school plan this fall. His office returned the responses to these questions:
Will there be mandates or guidance related to mask-wearing for staff and students?
"The Texas Education Agency has issued School Health Operation Requirements that include the following regarding masks:
Health and Hygiene Practices: Masks
Per GA-36, school systems cannot require students or staff to wear a mask. GA-36 addresses government-mandated face coverings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Other authority to require protective equipment, including masks, in an employment setting is not necessarily affected by GA-36.
School systems must allow individuals to wear a mask if they choose to do so.
The Calallen ISD Safe Return to In-Person Instruction and Continuity of Services Plan states the following in regards to face coverings:
CDC guidance has recommended that schools continue to use and layer prevention strategies. Five key prevention strategies include:
• Universal and correct use of masks
• Physical distancing
• Handwashing and respiratory etiquette
• Cleaning and maintain facilities
• Contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine
The Governor of Texas has declared that public school districts may not require students, school staff, or visitors to the school to wear a mask. Therefore, the wearing of masks will be optional for everyone unless a new Public Health Order changes the current order. If wearing a face mask, face masks must be appropriate for school and must be non-offensive, not considered derogatory or otherwise disrespectful to team members or visitors. Logos, graphics, and designs must be professionally appropriate as outlined in the District’s dress code policy. (This includes, but is not limited to, vulgar slogans/designs/graphics, profanity, etc.)."
Will students be able to remote learn as they did last year? Do they need to appeal to the school to do this? What is the criteria?
"Calallen ISD is dedicated to providing the best possible learning atmosphere for our students and staff. The district remains steadfast in our commitment to creating a safe and healthy environment for students, staff, and visitors. As we welcome everyone back into our building for the 2021-2022 school year, we have prioritized the safety and well-being of all of our stakeholders. Virtual instruction will no longer be an optional learning platform for students, and all learning will be delivered face-to-face. All students will be required to attend school on campus. We will continue the practices, protocols, and safety guidelines that made us successful last year, and will follow recommendations provided by the Texas Education Agency, Centers for Disease Control, and the Nueces County Public Health District."
Will your district be providing electronic devices for remote learning? Will those be shared per family?
"Calallen ISD will not offer remote learning. However, to support learning across the district, we have procured enough Chromebooks to make it possible for every student to have access to a Chromebook/technology – we have full 1-to-1 capability in regards to student technology."
What is the contingency plan for handling outbreaks on campus or on school busses?
"Calallen ISD will continue to employ the many safety measures and cleaning protocols that were implemented during the 2020-2021 school year. The measures we continue to practice include having access to hand sanitizer stations throughout our facilities, increased emphasis on handwashing, social distancing when appropriate, and targeted cleaning protocols. We will manage COVID through mitigation and response in the same way we did in 2020-2021, including notifications and reporting requirements."
Will teachers be able to remote teach? Do they need to appeal to the school to do this? What is the criteria?
"All instruction in Calallen ISD will take place in district facilities and be delivered face-to-face. This will require all staff to be in district."
Are there students and staff reporting cases to your district already? How many?
"Calallen ISD had a total of two isolated cases of positive COVID-19 students during summer school. Both cases were attributed to infections outside of school. Neither resulted in any close contact identifications."
Will quarantined students be penalized for absences?
"Calallen ISD will follow the attendance accounting rules as outlined in the Student Attendance Accounting Handbook provided by the Texas Education Agency."
Will your district partner with anyone to offer COVID-19 vaccines to students and staff? When will those be?
"Calallen ISD is coordinating with the Nueces County Health District."
Will vaccine requirements extend to the COVID-19 vaccine?
"Calallen ISD follows Texas minimum state vaccine requirements from the Department of State Health Services. Should the COVID-19 vaccine become a state requirement, we will comply."
Are you looking forward to a vaccine for kids 12 and under?
"We support all mitigating factors regarding COVID-19 that keep students safe and healthy and attending school."
Will your district strongly recommend that all students need to get vaccinated for COVID-19? Obviously, there is no law currently in place and children under 12 are not currently eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. But will your district strong suggest it?
"Calallen ISD will continue to follow and support the recommendations of the local health department, Texas Education Agency, CDC, and state and federal government."
What kind of sanitation practices will be implemented with students returning to in-person learning?
"Calallen ISD will continue to employ the many safety measures and cleaning protocols that were implemented during the 2020-2021 school year. The measures we continue to practice include having access to hand sanitizer stations throughout our facilities, increased emphasis on hand washing, social distancing when appropriate/possible, and targeted cleaning protocols for all school facilities."
Does your district have a plan to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 before the start of the school year? What is different from the plans ahead of the 2020 school year?
"Calallen ISD has created a Safe Return to In-Person Instruction and Continuity Plan for the 2021-2022 School Year. The major difference to our mitigation plan is GA-36 which mandates that school systems cannot require students or staff to wear a mask. In addition, we will social distance as much as is feasible based on 100% of students being back in the school building."
What are all these extra precautions costing your district? or how much will they cost? Is there state or federal funding available to offset these costs?
"The district has increased the maintenance budget to account for the need for additional cleaning supplies. We found that the increased focus on sanitation and mitigation has had a positive influence on the overall health of students and staff, and will continue to prioritize cleaning district-wide. Mitigation is an allowable use of federal ESSER grant funds, however, Calallen ISD will be focusing all ESSER funding on mitigating the effects of learning loss."
How will extracurricular activities such as sports or clubs be affected in the upcoming school year?
"Calallen ISD continues to monitor the UIL website for updates to its 2021-2022 UIL COVID-19 Risk Mitigation Guidelines. We will continue to livestream events as is possible, support virtual meetings, and will encourage clubs or groups to utilize larger meeting or outdoor spaces to support mitigation and social distancing."