As the first day of a new school year approaches, Elgin ISD leaders answered questions from parents in a virtual meeting, and the school district released its updated plan to mitigate the risks from COVID-19 last week.
During last week’s virtual superintendent’s chat on Wednesday evening, July 28, Elgin ISD Superintendent Dr. Jodi Duron, campus principals and other district leaders answered questions from parents about the upcoming school year via Zoom. Much of the discussion during the virtual meeting covered information now available in the school district’s updated Return to Learn Plan, which was posted to the Elgin ISD website later that week. The full Return to Learn Plan for the 2021-22 school year is available at www.elginisd.net.
School will take place completely in-person this year. Remote learning will not be offered because the state has not approved it to be funded this year, and Elgin ISD is not in a financial position to fund it without state funding, Duron said during the superintendent’s chat. She gave the example of Austin ISD, which will provide remote learning for only a small portion of its student population for just the fall semester, and the school district will have to fund it themselves. Virtual education will not be considered at Elgin ISD unless the state approves it for funding. Medically-fragile students with underlying health issues may be eligible for homebound education based on a doctor’s recommendation.
Duron said to expect a more normal classroom this year, but schools will take lessons learned over the past year about the usefulness of technology. While virtual education was a good option last year, given the circumstances, students attending in-person showed better academic progress in general, and STAAR test results tended to be higher among in-person students, she also said.
Masks are optional for all students, district employees and visitors; however, masks are highly encouraged for people who have not been fully vaccinated, and everyone is encouraged to mask when local risk levels are high. Since a governor’s order disallows school districts from requiring masks at schools, Elgin ISD is highly encouraging masks, especially for those who are unable to or have not gotten vaccinated. The district is also encouraging vaccinations, and will continue to hold vaccine clinics for those eligible, Duron and Dr. Peter Perez, deputy superintendent, said during the virtual superintendent’s chat.
Due to an order from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that requires masks on public transportation, masks will be required for students while they are riding on school buses. Students will also be required to sanitize their hands when they board and leave the bus, and if they don’t have a mask, disposable masks are available. Each student will be assigned a seat. When possible, bus windows will be opened to allow outside air to circulate in the bus. Buses will be disinfected after each morning and afternoon route.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizer will be available at many passes throughout each campus, and staff and students will be expected to regularly wash or sanitize their hands.
Classrooms and restrooms will be disinfected routinely, and high-touch areas will be disinfected throughout the day. Seats will be assigned, and desks and tables will be socially-distanced as much as possible; CDC guidance recommends three feet in schools, and Elgin ISD will try their best to follow that, although that might not happen consistently due to the number of students in the buildings, so the school district is emphasizing the importance of mask-wearing, Duron said. Signs promoting protective measures and best practices will be posted throughout each school. Students will return to eating their meals in cafeterias, but they could go back to eating in classrooms as the situation changes.
The plan outlines the school district’s response protocol depending on the amount of confirmed COVID-19 cases among staff or students.
When there are no confirmed cases, prevention measures are in place and common areas are frequently cleaned. When one or more cases of COVID-19 occur, those who came in close contact with someone with a confirmed case will be notified and encouraged to watch for symptoms, and the affected area is closed for deep cleaning. Close contact is defined as someone who has been within six feet of an infected person for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period, starting from two days before the infected person shows symptoms until they meet the criteria for discontinuing home isolation.
If COVID-19 cases exceed 10% of a particular facility’s capacity, that entire facility may be closed for up to ten days, and all students and staff at this campus may return if they are symptom-free. If COVID-19 cases exceed 10% of occupancy in more than three facilities, the entire school district would close for up to ten days, all facilities and school buses would be disinfected and extracurricular activities would be cancelled.
The plan also includes isolation protocols for students or staff that show symptoms of COVID-19. When a student displays symptoms of COVID-19, the school nurse will determine if the student needs to be sent home. Staff members with symptoms will also isolate themselves from students and other staff members. Areas used by someone who shows COVID-19 symptoms while at school will be cleaned as soon as possible.
Anyone with a test-confirmed case of COVID-19 must stay home throughout the infection period and cannot return to campus until it has been at least 24 hours since they had a fever without the use of fever-reducing medications, their symptoms have improved, and at least ten days have passed since their symptoms first appeared. Perez said parents could also give permission to the school to give their student a 15-minute rapid test for COVID-19.
There will not be temperature checks, but parents and guardians are expected to screen their students for COVID-19 symptoms each day before sending their students to school, and to keep them home if they are showing COVID-19 symptoms. Staff will also be encouraged to self-screen for symptoms before each day of work.
The school will work with students who have to miss ten days of school to keep them caught up, but due to state attendance requirements, they will be counted absent if they are not physically in the building.
Virtual meetings and phone conferences will be scheduled when possible in order to limit visitors to campus. Parents will not be allowed to enter school buildings to have lunch with or walk their students to class. Pre-approved individuals visiting campus will be encouraged to wear face coverings and social distance.
All extracurricular and athletic events will follow guidelines set by the University Interscholastic League (UIL), and spectator attendance at games, contests and performances may be limited based on UIL, Texas Education Agency and Elgin ISD guidelines. Gym facilities will have hand sanitizing stations, and equipment will be sanitized on a regular basis.
The district will ask employees and parents to help promote strategies and behaviors that reduce the spread of COVID-19. These behaviors include staying home when sick or after testing positive for COVID-19, practicing good hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, and wearing cloth face coverings. Schools will be expected to provide adequate supplies to support healthy behavior, and campuses will post signs that promote everyday protective measures.