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Despite health official's suggestion, Leander school district not closing as infections rise

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Posted at 7:49 PM, Aug 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-24 20:52:47-04

As hundreds of coronavirus infections are reported among Leander Independent School District students and staff in Central Texas, school officials are keeping the district open despite a local health official's recommendation to close for 10 days.

In a letter to the Leander ISD community, which consists of more than 40,000 students, the district said its “case counts continue to rise” and it had a total of 210 reported coronavirus cases last week and almost 150 reported cases this week. Dr. Amanda Norwood, medical director of the Williamson County and Cities Health District, said in an email to the district that about 43% of cases in the district are occurring in elementary schools and the “vast majority” of cases are students.

“We are concerned that exposed contacts will continue to convert to cases at an alarming rate this week,” Norwood said. “The entire Trauma Service Area that serves Central Texas only has 1 PICU bed remaining. This level of spread is unsustainable for a school district and for the surrounding county.”

The district’s letter said school officials are focusing on classes most impacted by infections and that it is possible that elementary classrooms may be required to switch to remote learning. If case numbers continue to increase the district said it may be forced to close “multiple classrooms and whole schools.”

“We share the concerns of WCCHD regarding the spread of COVID-19 in our community,” the letter said. “At this time, we do not believe a districtwide closure meets the needs of our students and families. While we have some pockets of concern, we also have several campuses with few positive cases.”

Norwood also recommended the school implement certain measures to tame the spread of COVID-19 such as universal masking, contact tracing, required quarantines and virtual options for students who are unable to be vaccinated.

Currently, the district requires mask wearing in all district facilities, and the board of trustees Monday approved a resolution to require masks at least through Sept. 9. Parents are allowed to have their child opt out of the requirement. During yesterday's board meeting, Superintendent Bruce Gearing said only about 10% or about 3,900 students opted not to wear a mask while in school. The district has also said it would be conducting contact tracing for PreK-6th grade students.

Around the state, hospitals have been burdened with high numbers of ICU patients and a short supply of hospital staff in recent weeks as the highly contagious delta variant spreads rampantly. The dire situation led to districts in some rural communities shutting down as to not overburden their already vulnerable medical facilities.

On Tuesday, James Young, superintendent of Kemp Independent School District, which has an enrollment of under 2,000 students, announced that all district campuses would be closed Wednesday through Friday because of a “significant rise in Covid cases.” School there is set to resume Monday.

“While we understand that this may cause an inconvenience for families, we are taking this time to mitigate the spread of the COVID virus as we thoroughly disinfect all district facilities including transportation,” Young said.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/08/23/texas-covid-updates/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.