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Education

San Antonio’s Largest School District Asks Families To Temporarily Return To Remote Instruction If Possible

The Northside Independent School District brand logo on the side of the district's central office.
File Photo |Camille Phillips | Texas Public Radio
The Northside Independent School District brand logo on the side of the district's central office.

Updated Thursday, Jan. 14 to include comments from the Northside teacher union.

The Northside Independent School District sent a message to its families on Wednesday asking them to consider returning to virtual learning for the next two weeks.

“(Coronavirus cases) have continued to rise in San Antonio these last few weeks since the holidays, and we want to do our part to avoid broader closures of schools or other important institutions,” Northside Superintendent Brian Woods said in a taped message posted to social media.

Woods said parents and guardians should use the next couple of days to make arrangements for work and child care, if possible, then stay remote from Jan. 19 until Jan. 29.

Teachers and other staff will continue to work on campus.

“It is not mandatory and we are not closing Northside schools,” Woods said. “I have tried to communicate clearly my belief that the majority of our students are better served by in-person learning. If your child is more successful attending school each day, they should stay there and that option remains.”

The Texas Education Agency cuts state funding in half when campuses go 100% virtual without an active coronavirus case. Woods said the financial risk is one reason the district is making this a request instead of a requirement.

The San Antonio Metropolitan Health District recommended families return to virtual instruction Dec. 8, when Metro Health’s school risk metrics entered the red high risk zone.

At the time, Northside spokesperson Barry Perez said the district “had no plans to return to an all-virtual learning environment” and remained “confident in the safety measures and protocols” on campus.

Perez said Wednesday Northside is making the request now because of the continued rise in coronavirus cases following winter break.

The Northside chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents teachers in the district, has been advocating for a more cautious approach to the pandemic for months.

The union’s lead organizer, Melina Espiritu-Azocar, said Northside AFT has been asking the district to follow Metro Health’s recommendation to limit in-person learning since Thanksgiving.

“Dr. Woods has finally taken steps to advocate for safety due to the surge in cases across the city,” Espiritu-Azocar said in a video message posted to social media, adding that the superintendent previously encouraged families to choose in-person learning.

“We do appreciate the district's efforts to help mitigate the surge across the city, but it still puts our teachers and staff at risk.”

According to data districts report to the state weekly, Bexar County’s 15 school districts have reported almost 1,600 coronavirus cases in the past month, almost double the number of coronavirus cases reported prior to December.

Northside ISD’s coronavirus case count has more than doubled in the past month, jumping from 701 on Dec. 6 to 1,221 on Jan. 3.

Seven high schools in the San Antonio Metro area, including two Northside high schools, reported more than 10 new student cases prior to winter break. Northside’s Harlan and Brandeis High Schools and North East’s Madison High School also reported at least five on-campus transmissions. The principals of Harlan, Brandeis and Madison pointed to team sports as the primary cause of the on-campus transmissions.

New data showing case counts for the first week after winter break are expected to be released on Friday.

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