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San Antonio Virtual Town Hall Discusses Possible School Reopening Plans, Concerns

An empty classroom is seen after Belgium's government ordered schools, cafes, restaurants and some shops to close due to the coronavirus disease.
An empty classroom is seen after Belgium's government ordered schools, cafes, restaurants and some shops to close due to the coronavirus disease.

The City of San Antonio held a virtual town hall Wednesday evening to discuss reopening schools with Bexar County Health Authority Dr. Junda Woo and other members of San Antonio Metro Health’s school reopening committee, including Northside Superintendent Brian Woods and San Antonio ISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez.

They discussed Metro Health’s new school reopening indicator, broken up into red, yellow and green zones, and polled audience members live to measure their comfort with virtual learning and in-person learning during each zone.

The reopening indicator is based on three metrics: 

  1. The percent of coronavirus test results coming back positive, known as the positivity rate. 
  2. How long it takes for the number of cases to double, known as the doubling time. 
  3. If the number of cases has been on a continuous decline for two weeks.

Bexar County is currently in the red zone, with a 15% positivity rate and rising case numbers. In order to reach the green zone, Woo said the positivity rate would have to be 5% or lower. San Antonio’s doubling time is currently 21 days, above the threshold of 18 days.
“I think it is safe — with limits — to open up for a small group of students in the red and yellow zones,” Woo said. “I’m thinking about extremely small cohorts—so pods of maybe six children.”

Woo said with strict social distancing, extremely small student groups, and PPE it’s possible to lower the risk of becoming infected to about the same as shopping.

She recommended prioritizing students in special education because it’s difficult to give them the education they are legally entitled to virtually.

Both Woods and Martinez said they would not return children to the classroom until Metro Health said it was safe, but stressed the need to balance public health with learning loss.

Martinez said SAISD would not bring any students on campuses as long as San Antonio remains in the red zone, but it might bring a limited number in to help reduce learning loss once it reaches the yellow zone.

It’s unclear how districts would limit the student population under state rules if San Antonio is still in the red or yellow zone in the 9th week of the semester, when current Texas Education Agency guidelines require districts to open schools to in-person learning to all students who want it.

Watch the entire town hall on the city’s Facebook page.

Camille Phillips can be reached at Camille@TPR.org and on Twitter at @cmpcamille. TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.