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Episode 409: COVID-19 Information Session

Episode Summary

District leaders discuss current COVID-19 mitigation measures in Clear Creek ISD.

Episode Notes

District leaders discuss current COVID-19 mitigation measures in Clear Creek ISD.

Click here for the CCISD COVID-19 website and district dashboard.


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Episode Transcription

Good afternoon and thank you so much for joining us for an information session on COVID 19 and CCISD's response to the ongoing pandemic. I'm Elaina Polson, chief communications officer for Clear Creek ISD. We are joined this afternoon with Dr. Eric Williams, our superintendent of schools, Dr. Karen Engle, our assistant superintendent of secondary education, and Ms. Holly Hughes, our assistant superintendent of elementary education. We will get to a series of questions. But first, let's review the 21-22 health mitigation protocol, which was developed and supported by the 21-22 school opening committee. As you know, we started the school year at a stage four, which was at the very start at the point of the Delta variant surge. And within a couple of weeks of the start of school monitoring the numbers and the absenteeism rate, CCISD had moved to a stage. Three conditions have certainly improved since then, and we're glad to hear that and see the continuing downward trend, not only in Clear Creek ISD, but in our communities that surround us.

And with that, we were able to open up more opportunities for students and parents. And we know that we've shared lots of information to our families over the past week or so. But we really want to go a little bit deeper into some specifics of what we have been doing so misused.

And Dr. Engle. Can you share some specifics of changes in our activities at the school level that parents may see here, if not already?

Absolutely. Just the distancing in classrooms is a significant factor, certainly. We've continued on with our distancing at lunch and in our lunch and breakfast protocols and keeping that distancing in place, but definitely working on that distancing in classrooms and small group instruction and stations in the elementary classroom specifically and trying to allow for space, but also for great instructional strategies to continue in the classrooms. It's been an important factor as far as math, squaring specifically at the elementary level, and I know secondary as well. We are working to ensure that we are tracking and monitoring parent choice for that and working to see that we can remind those students who who are requested by parents to wear mask at school that we are supporting them and tracking that information and supporting that during the school day. I'm very thankful for our teachers and for our staff that have worked so hard to make that happen and each classroom throughout throughout our school buildings.

We are still distancing at breakfast and lunch. That is a significant factor for us at the elementary level specifically. And to that end, we still are not able to have parents and and visitors for lunch at this time. But we're hopeful for things to continue to improve.

We are still maintaining our stage three protocols when it comes to social distancing, cleaning, making sure that students are wearing their masks properly if the parents have indicated as such. We'll talk a little bit more about some of the activities that we're reintroducing into the school setting.

Dr. Williams, when we started the school year, we communicated that visitors would be restricted for the start of the school year. And the plan was to open our doors to more parent involvement. Certainly that was placed on hold when we moved from a stage four to a stage three. Now that case numbers are declining, we are welcoming parents in certain situations. Can you explain in what situations parents can come into our schools?

Certainly. We're pleased that with the declining numbers, we're able to welcome parents and for a variety of activities. So, first of all, parents can volunteer. They can visit the school to meet with teachers. They can attend events at school, both during the school day and also after school.

And that might include, for example, meeting with PTA or meeting with a booster organization that would be an in-person meeting, perhaps in addition to any virtual opportunity that parent organization might provide. But certainly those in-person meetings can occur.

And as was mentioned, we still are not having visitors during lunch just so that we can be able to spread students out. I will say, though, that we'll continue to monitor the data and make adjustments as appropriate, and hopefully that will include reopening our cafeterias to visitors.

And Dr. Engle, certainly at intermediate and high school, there's lots of extracurricular activities that are ongoing at this time. Can you share some information about extracurricular activities and some things that that are going on that perhaps we have we would have restricted previously?

Absolutely. As a matter of fact, yesterday evening we had a wonderful homecoming parade at Clark Creek High School. So our homecoming activities, Clear Brooks was last week in Clear Creek is this week. So we have opened up to.

Grade level meetings. We have opened up to activities, we will have a homecoming. Our carnival activities tomorrow, what we're doing is really opening is doing as much as we can outdoors, and that has allowed us to have larger gatherings in a safer environment. Weather permitting, of course. But we have been fortunate yesterday evening.

Yes. Thank you. We postponed parent nights that were originally scheduled in September, at least for some campuses. I know many of them hadn't even had those on the calendar yet. Will those occur this fall?

Yes. Schools are working diligently to find ways to bring parents into the school, into the schools. Some are also working on plans of reinventing those open houses and those parent nights in different ways of showcasing with parents.

Some are providing virtual options so that we can just connect and get that information to parents quickly. Some are fine thinking through ways of of creating activities outdoors and creating activities to come indoors so that they can visit the the building and the classroom.

So that's definitely some work in progress. And they are looking to provide options for those events moving forward.

And we've had we've talked about this before, the challenges associated with a classroom versus a common area. So if you have a parent night and I know that's been something you've been working with principals on on have to be creative with space.

But when you could imagine potentially 40 adults in a classroom that was intended for 21 children, it's a little bit more of a challenge at the school level. So we do ask for patience as we work through those pieces.

But certainly parents that have a need to talk to their students please do. Parent teacher conferences, we want that communication to occur and those meetings to happen on the phone in person or whatever's convenient.

Glad you brought that up. October 8th as an early release and then moving into October 11th for elementary and for October 11th is a day in which there may be parent conferences scheduled on those on the campus. And we're trying to offer those both virtually and in-person, depending on parent needs.

And and so that's an important day. That's coming up. And we definitely want to connect with our parents. It is a partnership, and we definitely want to make sure that we are supporting everyone with that conversation.

OK, Dr. Williams, last year we get this question often. So I think it's worth clarifying for our parents last year. Our practice is that if there was a student who had tested positive in a classroom, we had a very extensive seating charts, and we would notify those students who were within three to six feet of that individual and quarantine them, basically said you cannot come to school for a minimum of 10 days. And so but this year, we're not doing that anymore. And so there's a question about why we're not contact tracing. So can you provide some some context to that?

Certainly, I think it will be helpful for me to talk about both classroom notification letters and then also what the Texas Education Agency, which governs local school districts, what they're what they require, what they permit as it relates to excluding students from school.

So, first of all, in terms of classroom notifications, we continue our practice of notifying the parents who have a child in a class that has had a student test positive. And we've actually can continue that practice at the beginning of this year before a clarified that that was a requirement.

We were doing it just like any other contagious disease. It was our interpretation that it was the requirement and it made sense to do to a sense articulated that that's a requirement because the contagious degree, contagious disease notification requirements.

And I share that. It's a requirement because some parents appreciate those notifications. Others are like not and not another email. And so we're we are doing it and it's required we'll need to continue doing. Although again, I'll say we were doing it before he said that that that that was necessary.

Now, in terms of attendance exclusions, what Texas Education Agency permits in requires this year, as it put in terms of excluding students from school, is very different from what was permitted and required last year. And so this year to Texas Education Agency is very explicit that if a student is a close contact, not a positive case, but a close contact, that it is a parental decision in most cases and not talk about the exception parental decision about whether or not they want to opt to have their student quarantined. So we do not have the ability to.

Exclude all students who have been close contacts. There is an exception. And we have the ability and it is our practice to exclude students who are in close contact of a member, a close contact of someone else in their household.

So if they live in a household where there's somebody else positive, then they are excluded for 10 days and are excluded during that during the time. With the exception of if they have been vaccinated or if they had COVID 19 in the past nine, 90 days.

And I will say that, of course, we're excluding any student who's actively ill suspected or suspected of having COVID 19 or who's tested positive for COVID 19. I also want to point any viewers to a document they may wish to reference on our website.

And it's titled "Can My Child Go to School Today?" And so that spells out what I've just explained verbally, as well as some other related information that people may wish to check out.

Absolutely. And certainly if your child is exhibiting symptoms of illness, keep them home. Especially as we head into the winter football flu season and we'll start seeing different kinds of viruses out there. So please help us to that extent.

We have remote conferencing, so you don't have to miss a minute of school. You can do it from the comfort of your home while you were recovering. Dr. Williams, let's talk about math mandates. We had several parents weigh in on both sides of this topic, as you know.

Can you set the record straight as far as where we are today?

Sure. So we continue to strongly recommend masks, although that's a strong recommendation we're asking people do do so, urging people to do so. But it's not a mandate. And as misuse referenced at the elementary and intermediate levels, our teachers are promoting the consistent proper usage of face coverings for those parents who want their child and end of let us know, want their child to wear face coverings. So, for example, I've been in elementary classes and just I've seen a teacher give a friendly reminder to a student about properly wearing the mask if it's slid down a little bit.

I've also observed students who forgot Mass as they were arriving in their classroom for the day, be able to ask and and receive a face covering in their classroom, because we've got those available to students throughout the day.

So we're doing those practices, even though we're not mandating. And in terms of the legal challenges to the mask mandates, there still is not legal resolution. The cases regarding this continue to work their way through the court system.

I will say that in the meantime, as we've shared before, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the governor's order is the law of the land in Texas. Also, the Texas attorney general has filed lawsuits against at least 12 school divisions.

And at one point, the Texas Education Agency had removed their reference in their directives to school districts. They had removed briefly removed their reference to the governor's prohibition of mass mandates, but they've added it back. And so that that guidance states explicitly that school districts cannot require students or staff to wear a mask.

So really, though, we're continuing to encourage the encourage face coverings and supporting that practice for students whose parents want it without mandating it.

And I know you've been in classrooms and you have and it's really wonderful to see students respecting the choices of others. I think that was know that there was some concern about that bit before we started school. And it has.

Students have just done a great job of respecting the choices of their peers. And so that's been really great. Dr. Williams, it's another question to ask you. So even in the news this morning, we're hearing more and more employers and states requiring vaccinations for whether government employees or private employees.

So will CCISD still require staff and students to be vaccinated, to go to school or work, as we've seen in other parts of the country?

No, we will not require it. As with all immunizations, we follow what the Texas Department of Health and Human Services requires for students to attend school and for staff. Any directives would come from the Texas Education Agency. So I will say we'll continue to provide information to families and staff who wish to obtain vaccines about where they where they can do so. I mentioned yesterday I was meeting along with other Galveston County superintendents, with Dr. Kaiser, who's the head of the Galveston County Health Department. And as as we've shared before, we meet on an ongoing basis.

And yesterday, he was reviewing the recent CDC guidance on eligibility for Covid. Nineteen booster shots, and specifically he shared that as we as we had learned as well, that the group of people eligible for COBRA 19 vaccine booster shots includes it's not limited to, but it includes teachers in education, support staff who completed their initial Pfizer series at least six months ago. So that's information that we've just shared with our with our staff members. Ultimately, though, it's their decision to make. It's not a requirement.

Thank you, Dr. Engle. There were some comments in our thought exchange when we asked the community to tell us what they'd like for us to talk about today. Many comments in support of our cleaning procedures, as well as some questions about whether or not we have plenty of access to cleaning and sanitation supplies for teachers.

And so I know we had Mr. Hall here a couple of weeks ago, and our maintenance department does an amazing job. And I know we talked about this at this time, but at that time. But it's worth repeating to teachers have access to sanitizing wipes and cleaning supplies in the classroom.

Absolutely they do. And our department our facilities department has been outstanding about cleaning, providing that additional cleaning as as requested, as needed. And also our warehouse. We can we can put in our request at any time for cleaning supplies, and that is delivered to the campus. So they are readily available.

And I would just add to that, too, that a ongoing piece that I see is that we're hiring, we're hiring, we're hiring for all of our auxiliary auxiliary positions as well of our substitute positions and professional positions. If you're interested in the school district and interested in supporting in any of those faculties, please look to our website and engage. I think that as a piece, I know our teachers are wanting to make sure that we have folks that are fully staffed at all times. And we are our team has done an amazing job to make sure that we are hitting the market every every day.

But that is a factor that if there are people that are hearing this and they're interested in being involved, that's just another way in in a variety of levels and different job responsibilities that are open within our district.

And I just know that teachers would appreciate hearing that as well, that there's that there are openings and we're definitely continue to hire.

Definitely. And, you know, many of our teachers, our parents always want to support the classroom. So sending those Kleenex boxes, I mean, those at any time of the year, pre COVID 19, those items are always appreciated.

An extra bottle of hand sanitizer and Kleenex. Yes.

Yes. But that should not be misconstrued, that there's a shortage right away, that families can continue to help us.

And we're still learning one pump in the early grades, too. So that's still something that we continue to work on. Yes.

Dr. Williams, would you like to provide some closing thoughts?

Yes, thank you. So last spring, we developed our plans for the current school year with the support of the school opening committee. And the basic underlying concept for those plans revolve around tiered level tiered levels of mitigation strategies and just the concept that the level of our mitigation strategies will correlate with that level, the the level of positive cases both within the school community and the broader community. And so that's what we've observed take place with the with the school year. During the summer, we had certain anticipation for the school year based on the level of transmission.

And then as cases rose significantly, our mitigation measures in accordance with what we had planned all along, because the cases rose. We implemented additional mitigation measures, as have been described today. And we've seen a falling of cases. And so to give some specifics.

So our cases peaked in early September at about six hundred and seventy. And so we were adding mitigation measures during that during that time period as it was rising and peaking. And then with the number of significant cases, with the number of cases fallen, we've then made adjustments.

And specifically, we are now at at one point when we had one hundred and fourteen cases, and that's below the peak last year of one hundred and forty two. It's well below the peak of six seventy a few weeks ago, but it's still relatively high in comparison to much of last year.

So basically the data is nuanced and so are mitigation. Practices are new. We're continuing with practices that you've heard described today. Even as we are opening up additional opportunities, as you've heard today, for students and parents. So in the meantime, what I'll close with saying is that we have a dual focus on health mitigation measures, promote, promoting, protecting the health of our students and staff visitors to campus do focus on that as well as instruction. And so for me, I have joy when I walk into classrooms.

And so, for example, recently seeing in a second in a science class at the secondary level, seeing a student bending over a microscope in an examining cell and making observations about what he was saying and then walking into kindergarten classes recently and seeing students learn to decode words.

So learning to chunk words and sound them out and really just becoming emerging readers. And so what I close it with is we is with this emphasis on a dual focus of promoting public health while having a laser like focus, focus on teaching and learning. And and that is reassuring.

That's a great way to end the session today. Thank you so much for joining us and thank you for joining us. And we'll be back with updates regularly. In the meantime, be sure to visit 19.