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Suburban Districts Partially In Bexar County Have Mixed Reaction To School Closure Order

Plexiglass installed at Comal ISD's Goodwin Frazier Elementary to protect from COVID-19.
Comal ISD
Plexiglass installed at Comal ISD's Goodwin Frazier Elementary to protect from COVID-19.

Two suburban school districts partially located in Bexar County are pushing back against the order closing all schools in the county to in-person learning until after Labor Day.

The Boerne and Comal Independent School Districts say they disagree with the order and want all of their families to have the option to send their children to school for face-to-face instruction on the first day of school.

A significant number of parents from Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City ISD have also voiced their opposition to being required to start the year online. But after weighing the pros and cons, SCUC ISD trustees voted Thursday to also move its Guadalupe County schools to distance learning until after Labor Day.

“I want to clearly state that I disagree with this directive,” Comal ISD Superintendent Andrew Kim said in a letter to parents the day San Antonio Metro Health issued the order. “Comal ISD was not invited to have any input into this decision.”

In addition to believing parents should have a choice, Comal ISD spokesman Steve Stanford said Thursday that his district wants all of its schools “on the same schedule for logistical and operational issues.”

Stanford said about 57% of the district’s families said in a recent survey that they want their children to start the school year on campus.

Comal ISD is located primarily in Comal County, but has five schools in Bexar County. Boerne ISD is primarily in Kendall County, but two of its elementary schools are in Bexar County.

Boerne ISD communications director Bryan Benway said the order forces families with children at Fair Oaks Ranch and Van Robb Elementary online for the first three and a half weeks of school.

“It’s clear to us that those parents want and need that choice,” said Benway. “They know that the best choice for their students is in school, and so we’re trying to make sure that we fight for them.”

Despite the recent surge in coronavirus cases, Benway said he believes Boerne can keep its students and staff safe when its school year starts August 12.

“We’re very confident in our plan. Now, nothing is foolproof, obviously with anything in life, but if you look at our back to school plan we have increased cleaning protocols. All of our students will wear masks. All of our staff will wear masks,” Benway said. We would not give parents the in-person option if we thought it was not safe. That’s just something that we would never do.”

Benway said Boerne has asked their local elected officials for help lobbying the Texas Education Agency for an exemption to the order for its Bexar County schools. In its latest guidance, TEA said local health agencies had the authority to order schools closed.

According to the district’s most recent survey, Benway said about 80% of the district’s parents want their children in face-to-face instruction.

“Boerne is lumped in with San Antonio because of our proximity, but if you’ve ever been to Boerne, it’s like night and day as far as the personalities that are here, as far as what people want to have in their day-to-day lives,” Benway said. “Beliefs and values are different.”

During Thursday’s media briefing, Bexar County’s Health Authority, Dr. Junda Woo, said she had been on a phone call with TEA earlier that day.  

“We’re talking about additional guidance that the TEA may be able to issue,” Woo said.

“Clearly the lack of uniformity in school openings in terms of guidance from the state has complicated this issue at the local level, especially when you have suburban districts and 17 districts in the same area,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg added. “We’re seeking clarification from the state on that issue.”

The Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City school district also received numerous calls from parents to keep schools open for face-to-face instruction, but after weighing the pros and cons the district’s trustees voted Thursday to move its 15 Guadalupe County schools online until after Labor Day, putting them on the same plan is its two Bexar County schools.

SCUC Superintendent Clark Ealy said starting remotely will give the district time to carefully ramp up both in person and virtual learning.

“It’ll allow us to bring our teachers in to help inform that planning, to make those plans even stronger,” Ealy said.

Public comment during the meeting was split pretty evenly between parents who want the option to send their kids to school and calls to start the year remotely. But Ealy said more than 300 pages of emailed feedback skewed slightly more towards wanting three weeks online.

Before the vote, trustee Gary Inmon said he was swayed by the fact that Bexar County’s medical authority believed it was unsafe to reopen schools right now.

“For years we’ve tried to separate ourselves out from Bexar County, but I think in this case other than the fact that we’ve got a creek separating the two of us, I think most of Schertz and Cibolo have far more in commonality as a closely-knit suburb of San Antonio and Bexar County than it does with the remainder of Guadalupe County,” Inmon said. “I don’t have a whole lot of heartburn buying us another three and a half weeks.”

About 55% of the parents who responded to a survey conducted by SCUC said they want their children to start the school year learning from home.

Camille Phillips can be found at Camille@tpr.org or on Twitter at @cmpcamille.

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Correction: An earlier version of  this story incorrectly identified SCUCISD trustee Gary Inmon.