The dramatic increase in hospital patients across North Texas comes as kids head back to school.
Some districts have altered safety plans in hopes of slowing the spread of the virus, as the debate over masking plays out between the state and local levels.
Local school districts are keeping track of COVID-19 cases, giving us a glimpse of the virus’ impact on the school year so far.
“This is a time like I don’t think anyone could ever anticipate or has ever experienced before,” said Rena Honea, president of Alliance AFT, the largest organization representing employees in Dallas ISD. “I really feel like it’s going to be a day-to-day occurrence. Looking at all of the information that’s available, staying in touch with the CDC, with the county and the reports from various campuses as to what’s happening with employees and students.”
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According to the Texas Department of Health and Human Services, public schools are required to report positive COVID-19 cases on school campuses. The agency posts statewide numbers on its website daily.
However, many larger school districts have decided to post their case counts on their own websites to help parents stay up-to-date. Be sure to search your school district website for “COVID-19” or “COVID-19 Dashboard.”
The latest news from around North Texas.
A handful of North Texas school districts have been open long enough to report cases.
Garland ISD, which started class on Aug. 2, has reported a few hundred cases among its total population of more than 53,000 students and staff since tracking started on July 1. Once school started, the numbers increased especially among some elementary and most of the district’s high schools. Click here to view GISD's latest data.
Duncanville ISD – which has a total of more than 11,000 students – has also been posted current numbers on case counts. As of Thursday, Aug. 12, there were 56 active student cases and 15 staff cases.
Dallas ISD – the region’s largest school district – is also keeping track. The district has three different school year calendars, with nearly 50 schools in session so far and a majority starting next week.
Honea said the latest developments with the virus are concerning.
"It is extremely uncharted territory for everyone. We are having to navigate these waters the best way possible,” she said. “And when you have so many people involved, so many opinions that are there, so many pressures from the state from the legislature, pressure from parents on what they want and need. It is an extremely rough road, to say the least."
She said a vast majority of teachers in the district are relieved that the district is erring on the side of caution with the implementation of the district-wide mask mandate, in spite of Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order banning government entities and officials from mandating face coverings.
"It’s a real crisis point for many and it’s a very controversial point for many. But if we are going to be called on as frontline workers and providing education, safety and welfare for everyone -- we have to implement every layer of protection that we know has helped slow this virus down to keep everyone safe," Honea said.
When Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins enacted a mask mandate for the county this week, the governor announced a court filing to "strike down the actions" of Jenkins, saying, "The path forward relies on personal responsibility, not government mandates."
Honea added some emotions from teachers have been mixed on how they are going to proceed with an uncertain school year.
"We do have some that don’t agree, for personal reasons. They feel like the superintendent is overstepping the executive order of the governor," Honea said. "The district from my understanding has all legal things considered, having an interpretation of it. What the superintendent says is that the governor is responsible for the citizens of Texas, he is responsible for the students and staff of Dallas ISD. He feels like it’s within his authority to call for this temporary mask-wearing to try and help slow down and mitigate the spread of this virus that is so rampant."
Some school districts like Frisco ISD have also made tough decisions to spend its own money on virtual options for parents since the state has made it clear no funding will be provided for virtual learning.
“They have threatened to hold the funding for any district that offers virtual instruction. They feel like these campuses and facilities are safe everywhere, without knowing the specifics of each community in each district,” Honea said. “And many feel like they are putting people in harm’s way by not allowing the districts to make the best choices for their constituents in those districts.”
Currently, Alliance AFT is fighting for a retention incentive for Dallas ISD teachers.
“It is worrisome for some people. We have some that are making decisions if they’re going to stay in the profession because of the risks that are involved. And because their feeling of safety may not meet their standards of what their families are encouraging them to do,” Honea said.
Dallas ISD did announce on Thursday that it will be offering a one-time $500 incentive to district employees who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
In order to get the incentive, employees must fill out a vaccination incentive form and submit proof of vaccination by Nov. 15.
“We have to remember that these educators and employees or individuals and they have families as well. They are being asked to do things that should not be asked of a lot of people. Many are stepping up to the plate with everything they possibly can,” Honea said. “They are giving up time with their families, they’re spending their own money because of the importance that education is for our kids. We need to appreciate that, we need to be understanding about that. Just be kind to everyone that is having to go through all of this."