With a rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, some North Texas school districts are pulling back on certain in-person back-to-school activities.
This week, Arlington ISD confirmed their convocation initially scheduled for Aug. 9 at the AT&T Stadium for faculty and staff will now be virtual. District spokesperson Anita Foster cited the uptick in COVID-19 cases in Tarrant County behind the district's decision. A date has not been set for the virtual event, but Foster said it will be before the start of the new school year on Aug. 16.
For several weeks, Tarrant County has had the highest amount of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in North Texas. The DFW Hospital Council reported another increase regionally on Thursday with 1,979 COVID-19 patients in Trauma Service Area E’s hospitals.
“Real large gatherings and I’m not talking about schools now. I’m talking about events like annual meetings, civics clubs, etc., I really think in the short term, they should postpone them,” Love said Thursday. “We should lead by example. Here at the hospital, we have an October luncheon, normally 1,000 people. We do it annually. We’ve already announced it’s going to be virtual.”
Many school districts in North Texas are moving ahead with in-person back-to-school events, as permitted with eased COVID-19 restrictions. This week, photos circulating online of Allen ISD’s convocation raised some concerns from parents over crowd size and mask-wearing.
Dr. Shabbir Hossain, a local primary care physician, is also the father of three children in the school district.
“It’s a lot of people, looked like thousands of people sitting very close together. Pretty much no mask use, whatsoever. As a parent, as a physician, as a public health person, those pictures concern me,” Dr. Hossain said, referring to the photos online. “The school has an incredibly difficult job and these meetings are important, I understand. I totally get that, but it’s disappointing because I would like to think by now, we’ve come to terms that COVID is a real thing. It’s a real concern.”
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Under current executive orders issued by Gov. Greg Abbott, local governments cannot place capacity limits or mask mandates on businesses. Public schools also cannot mandate masks. Speaking with NBC 5 Thursday, Hossain said he appreciated the school district’s ongoing efforts related to the coronavirus pandemic.
“But I guess my request as a parent, as a clinician, as a public health person…it is, please let’s do every little thing we can that we’re allowed to,” he said. “I know there are laws and restrictions, that there are certain things we can’t mandate and I get that…and we can’t overlook that fact, but are there other things we can do? Are there little things we can do to really create a good, safe environment for our children to limit the spread of this disease in our communities?”
NBC 5 reached out to the district regarding concerns from Hossain along with other parents who emailed photos of the event shared online. Allen ISD released the following statement on Thursday afternoon:
“The safety of our students and staff will always remain the top priority in Allen ISD. As a district, we have provided our school facilities to local health officials to help administer the COVID-19 vaccine to anyone eligible and willing to receive it, including our staff. This includes providing space at Eagle Stadium for more than three months to the Allen Fire Department for a drive-through clinic that administered more than 92,000 doses of the vaccine. According to local health officials, 83% of Allen citizens aged 12 and older have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, the highest percentage in Collin County.
Allen ISD is excited to welcome all students back to campus for learning this Fall. Last school year, Allen ISD offered a virtual learning option for students and Convocation was also held virtually. With all students returning to the classroom this school year, the decision was made to host an in-person Convocation.”