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Education

San Antonio School Leaders ‘Confident’ Campuses Remain Safe For In-Person Learning

Signs direct traffic for North East ISD's rapid coronavirus tests on Monday, Nov. 30, 2020.
Provided by North East ISD
North East ISD started offering coronavirus tests to students and staff with symptoms on Nov. 30, 2020.

San Antonio school leaders say they’re confident schools are still safe for in-person learning despite Metro Health's recommendation for remote instruction.

The San Antonio Metropolitan Health District recommended families return to virtual learning Tuesday due to the rise in coronavirus cases in the area, but Bexar County schools remain open to in-person learning.

San Antonio school leaders say they’re confident schools are still safe for in-person learning because most students and staff who test positive for the virus aren’t becoming infected on campus.

Districts risk losing state funding if they stop offering parents the option of on-campus instruction, but North East Independent School District spokesperson Aubrey Chancellor said that’s not why her district’s schools remain open.

“Our decision to continue on with our plan is not based on finances. It's simply based on the fact that our data shows that schools are safe. Metro Health data shows that schools are safe,” Chancellor said, adding that in-person learning lowers the risk that students might fall behind academically.

Metro Health has confirmed 1,074 coronavirus cases in Bexar County schools since the pandemic began, but only seven outbreaks with at least one in-school transmission.

Northside ISD spokesperson Barry Perez said Tuesday the district had “no plans to return to an all-virtual learning environment,” but had stopped bringing more students back to campus until after winter break.

“We remain confident in the safety protocols and measures in place in our buildings and we remain committed to meeting the instructional, nutritional, and emotional needs of our students,” Perez said.

In a letter to staff after Bexar County’s positivity rate climbed above 15% on Monday, San Antonio ISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez said the district’s positivity rate was less than 1%.

“We know this because of the COVID-19 testing programs we have put into effect,” Martinez said. “We are seeing the benefits of our testing program, and we are at least comforted by that fact.”

SAISD spokesperson Vanessa Barry said in a statement Wednesday that SAISD has taken “the most measured approach (to in-person learning) across the city with only 30% of high-priority students in-person districtwide.”

“We will continue doing everything we can to balance academics and safety through our safety protocols of COVID testing, the wearing of face masks, and social distancing,” Barry said.

According to state data, the Bexar County school district with the fewest in-person students is South San ISD, with 24%.

Bexar County Health Authority Dr. Junda Woo said Tuesday her recommendation for remote learning was mostly directed at parents because of restrictions placed on districts by the Texas Education Agency.

“This is really an appeal to parents because schools have less control right now because of the TEA rules,” Woo said.

Several districts, including Harlandale, Southwest, and South San, sent messages to parents this week telling them they have the option of returning to virtual learning at any time.

“Though we are confident in our safety measures, we support those families in making this choice,” Southwest ISD Superintendent Lloyd Verstuyft wrote.

Staff Testing

Metro Health recommended families return to virtual instruction when the agency’s school risk indicator is in the red zone, indicating high risk.

If schools remain open in the red zone, Woo said at least 25% of on-campus staff should be tested for the coronavirus weekly.

School officials with SAISD and Edgewood ISD said their testing meets that requirement.

Edgewood spokesperson Keyhla Calderon-Lugo said her district is providing coronavirus tests to all students and staff on campus weekly.

“That is taking place as an added layer of safety for all of those that are in our campuses, and we do believe our campuses are safe places to be,” Calderon-Lugo said.

Calderon-Lugo said 30% of Edgewood students are on campus five days a week. Another 12% attend classes in person two days a week.

Northside and North East, however, aren’t testing to the same extent.

Perez said Northside launched a pilot on Monday using tests provided by the state to test students and staff with symptoms at 10 of the district’s 120 schools.

Chancellor said North East isn’t testing 25% of staff weekly, but does provide tests to students and staff with symptoms if they would like to be tested.

Yellow Zone

Woo’s revised school recommendations loosen restrictions if Bexar County is able to get the current surge under control enough to return to the risk indicator’s yellow zone, which indicates a moderate risk.

In September, Woo recommended schools limit occupancy to 25% in the yellow zone. She now recommends 50%.

About half of Northside and North East’s students are currently attending school in person. According to the most recent data available from the state, almost 75% of students are in person at Alamo Heights ISD.