‘I don’t want to do this again’: Leander students navigate being sent home as COVID-19 cases rise

Education

LEANDER, Texas (KXAN) — The Leander Independent School District has one of the highest COVID-19 case counts amongst all Central Texas school districts.

The number of cases has caused some district schools to close individual classrooms and entire grade levels to in-person learning.

On Friday, Leander ISD said all sixth-graders at two of their middle schools will be moved to remote conferencing for the next 10 days.

The two schools affected are Canyon Ridge Middle School and Wiley Middle School.

Since the beginning of school, Leander has had over 840 positive cumulative COVID cases and 240 active cases so far the week of September 1.

Though the spread is happening largely inside Elementary and Middle Schools, the district is still trying to slow the spread amongst children ages 12 and up who are eligible to be vaccinated.

Danielson Middle School sent its sixth-grade students home Tuesday due to a number of COVID-19 “clusters” within the grade level.

Leander ISD holds COVID vaccine clinic

On Sep. 2, the district held a free COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the LISD Technology Building (315 S. West Drive, Leander) from 4-8 p.m.

Leander ISD hosts COVID-19 vaccine clinic as cases in the school district rise. (KXAN Photo/Kaitlyn Karmout)
Leander ISD hosts COVID-19 vaccine clinic as cases in the school district rise. (KXAN Photo/Kaitlyn Karmout)

First and second doses of the Moderna and Pfizer (age 12 and up) vaccines were given, as well as the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. No insurance or ID is required to receive a vaccine. 

“We are working with our local health authorities to provide more vaccination clinics in the near future. This will be our fifth vaccination clinic for the general public, in addition to the many offerings we had for staff last spring,” said Leander ISD.

Students navigate remote conferencing

In the meantime, students sent home for remote conferencing are navigating yet another disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Sweety, your first class is math right,” said Karey Shaefer to her sixth-grader. “Here’s your math folder and your notes from yesterday,”

Canyon Ridge Middle School Student Jack Shaefer works on homework. KXAN/Kaitlyn Karmout

Jack Shaefer was sent home along with his entire sixth grade at Canyon Ridge Middle School. Thursday he worked on some math homework, but it didn’t take his wizard mind long to finish.

“I just feel stressed. I don’t want to do this again,” said Karey Shaefer. “The kids did this all last year, and so many of them lost so much. Here we are again. They are only doing core classes, but I don’t feel like he’s learning anything new at home.”

That was Schaefer’s response when she found out her son wouldn’t be going back to school for the next 10 days. Since students are only working on core classes when remote conferencing, she says there’s a lot of dead time.

Leander ISD hosts COVID-19 vaccine clinic as cases in the school district rise. (KXAN Photo/Kaitlyn Karmout)
Leander ISD hosts COVID-19 vaccine clinic as cases in the school district rise. (KXAN Photo/Kaitlyn Karmout)

“Three hours every day. Literally doing nothing,” said Shaefer. “Thank goodness we have tutoring and I keep him busy doing other homework.”

The disruptive feeling is something the Texas Education Agency commissioner recognizes.

“It is very disruptive, and school systems are wrestling vitally to ensure they offer a safe instructional environment,” said TEA Commissioner Mike Morath.

Morath has deployed 1.5 million COVID-19 tests across Texas school districts to help with the spread.

Closer to home in Williamson County, the health district is doing its best to make recommendations to schools.

KXAN’s Kaitlyn Karmout asked lead epidemiologist Allison Stewart what it would take to prevent the continuous disruptions from happening in schools.

“It’s really going to take the mitigation measures that schools used last year,” said Allison Stewart. “Right now, they’re not allowed. It’s not their fault. It’s just the way it is. We know how to keep kids safe in school. We did it last year and had lost of layered mitigation there.”

According to the TEA guidelines, one individual student cannot be out for more than 20 remote conferencing days or the district risks losing funding. The guidelines for this could change once the governor signed off on a remote learning funding bill currently sitting on his desk.

The Texas Senate gave final approval to Senate Bill 15 in a 29-2 vote Tuesday afternoon.

Being sent home from school again is a position Jack Shaefer hopes he isn’t in again.

“I looked over at my friend and his head was on the table and he was upset that he had to go home,” said Shaefer. “The teacher called him over and asked if he was OK. I was upset too.”

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