August 31, 2021 Email: Superintendent Update on COVID

Posted by Tim Savoy on 8/31/2021

Dear Hays CISD Family,

As the school year enters its second full week, we continue to get additional information about what we are facing with the Delta variant of COVID-19. The data is not surprising or unique to our district, but it is indeed as concerning as we expected it might be. I want to share with you the latest information on the adjustments we are making to our actions and plans as we work to stay ahead of the virus and to provide you and your children the best and safest educational setting we can.

Masks

I need you to wear masks. Your school district family needs you to wear masks. Given that our COVID-positive case numbers are as high this week as the highest week of the entire last school year, I need you to wear a mask. Thank you to the majority of our staff and students at the majority of our campuses for doing your part to be kind to your neighbors by wearing a mask. Additionally, we are distributing masks to campuses to have them readily available for students and staff who need them.

We don’t currently have legal authority or practical ability to require masks, but we are closely watching the courts and the legislature. In the courts, we anticipate the supreme court to issue a statewide ruling within the coming weeks regarding the governor’s ban on mask mandates. In the legislature, both political parties appear to be close to an agreement on a bill that, if signed by the governor, would allow districts to have mask mandates with opt-out provisions. We hope to know more about this development by the end of this week or early next week.

Virtual Learning

We are also watching the legislature for a bill that could fund a virtual learning choice for students beyond the limited remote conferencing and Homebound Academy options we are currently able to provide students. We are optimistic we will have some additional options soon that we can make available to you and your children.  

Daily Dashboard

Beginning Tuesday, September 7, 2021, which is next week, we will begin updating our COVID dashboard daily, on days students are in school. The dashboard is in re-design to accommodate the additional data.

Moving Classes to Remote Conferencing

We have started to see our first classrooms having to move to remote conferencing because of COVID cases. Remote conferencing is the name the Texas Education Agency has given a type of virtual learning option that allows students to access teachers for up to four hours a day with questions about their asynchronous assignments. Students and staff who test positive must quarantine.

Our standard threshold to move an entire classroom, grade-level, or school to remote conferencing is when we see a 10% or greater positive case confirmation count within a week. For example, with most elementary school classrooms of 22 students, if three or more people in the same classroom test positive within the same week, the class would move to remote conferencing.

As of writing this letter, we have placed 5 classrooms districtwide on remote conferencing – two at Elm Grove Elementary School, one each at Buda and Negley Elementary Schools, and one special education classroom at Chapa Middle School.

Streamlining the Notification Process

We are working on ideas to streamline our COVID-positive and close contact notification emails and letters that go home to you. This will make the information more user friendly for you and will help reduce data and notification duties from our nurses so that they may spend more time working directly with students.

Employee Leave Benefits

I am proud to announce that the Board has approved a program that will allow employees to have up to ten days paid leave if they must quarantine for a positive test, or if they must quarantine to take care of a COVID-positive, school-aged child. This benefit is for all employees regardless of vaccine status and it will be retroactive back to July 1, 2021. In weighing whether to use this program as an incentive for employees to get vaccinated, we determined that the most important outcome is that all employees who are ill, regardless of vaccine status, need to have the ability to quarantine without fear of losing income if they are out of leave days.

COVID Help Desk

We are working to set up a COVID information helpdesk staff with nurses who would be contracted from an outside company to answer your COVID-related health questions and to help you with district COVID-related quarantine and safety protocols. This will help free our campus nurses to focus on their duties working directly with students. As an example, one of the many questions we are getting is whether an unvaccinated person should stay home if they live with a person (spouse, child, household member) who has tested positive. The answer is yes.

Vax Approval for Younger Children

We don’t have any new information regarding when a vaccine may be available for children younger than 12, but we know it is in the works. We hope it will be this fall. For those who can get vaccinated, we are encouraging you to do so.

Air Purifiers

In addition to our heightened sanitization protocols at campuses, we are in the process of bidding out for air purifiers and filtration systems for our campuses to enhance what we already have in place.

This email is just a highlight of the many things we are working on to navigate this latest and most aggressive chapter in the COVID pandemic. Thank you to everyone who has reached out to us, expressed their voices at our Board meetings, and who have provided insight. As we continue to be flexible with our response plans, know that we will not wavier on our commitment to educate your children.

I will keep you updated with news as we learn it.

Sincerely,
Eric