AUSTIN (KXAN) — Video of a large indoor gathering of Georgetown Independent School District teachers and staff has left some parents worried about the upcoming school year.
The video, taken at their annual Teacher Convocation, was posted with the caption: “THIS is how you kick off the school year!” It pictured hundreds of employees — some wearing masks and some not — gathered in a gymnasium and listening to a live band.
Comments on the post revealed dozens of parents upset about the gathering and wondering if their child’s classroom will be safe, amid the rise of the delta variant of the coronavirus.
The mother of a GISD third-grader and kindergartner told KXAN her family is now reconsidering their back-to-school plans in large part because of the video, which she describes as “hard to watch.”
“We went back and forth about whether he should go to school or not, and he said, ‘I don’t want to go; I’m scared,'” she said. “It’s like this pandemic doesn’t even exist to Georgetown.”
Other parents and commenters on the post praised the district for starting the year off positively. Some pointed out that under Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order, mask wearing is optional.
A spokesperson for Georgetown ISD told KXAN, “As you know, we are under governor’s orders to not require masks, though we support each individual’s choice to wear one.”
She said masks and hand sanitizer were provided, along with frequent cleaning for “high touch” surfaces throughout the “brief event.” She went on to say employees could also choose to join the event remotely, by a livestream the district offered.
The district had previously posted its COVID-19 safety protocols to its website’s homepage, but after conducting a survey of families, they are now reviewing the feedback and making updates.
“I anticipate we will have an updated plan to release next week,” the spokesperson said.
On Tuesday night, the GISD superintendent penned a brief letter to families reiterating that masks are still optional, ahead of an upcoming school board meeting.
- Read the letter here
After the Austin Independent School District moved to require masks on campus, school districts around Central Texas began to grapple with difficult decisions about how to handle COVID-19 safety protocols, amid mounting pressure.
Round Rock ISD put out survey on Tuesday for parents on masks that closes this Friday. Meanwhile, the agenda for the Del Valle ISD Board of Trustees meeting notes a discussion on its policies on Thursday, along with a meeting planned between families and superintendent.
Tuesday night, a group of doctors, many who have children at Eanes ISD schools, gathered at an Eanes ISD Board of Trustees meeting.
“To say I’m very nervous is probably an understatement,” Dr. Chesney Castleberry, a pediatric cardiologist with Dell Children’s, told reporters before the meeting. “I’ve seen children who were previously healthy, who now have long-term consequences of COVID.”
The board was not scheduled to discuss COVID-19 safety protocols, but the superintendent addressed many of these parents’ concerns.
Dr. Tom Leonard said they follow the guidance of the various government entities, and for a long time they were all mostly aligned. However, he went on to say the governor’s orders supersede other recommendations or guidelines.
He also told the meeting attendees how difficult it is to ask their staff to enforce something such as a mask mandate without the state’s backing.
He went on to guarantee they would provide in-person learning with their cleaning, sanitation and positive case procedures staying the same. They will be limiting visitors, while still working to get parents back in the building. He said they will have assigned seats on buses and assigned lunch seating for elementary school children. Students can request Plexiglass around their desk, and positive cases on a classroom or bus will trigger a email to parents of students in those rooms. He said they would not be canceling all assemblies, but award ceremonies could be broken down into smaller groups.
Virtual learning updates
At this time, neither Georgetown nor Eanes will be offering a virtual option for families.
Meanwhile, Leander ISD announced an expansion of its virtual offering Tuesday. The district added space for about 2,025 additional students currently on the waitlist. The virtual learning program will be offered to these kids in kindergarten through sixth grade through Oct. 8.
“We are continuing to explore options for 508 students in grades 7-12 who expressed interest in remote learning on our waitlist,” a news release from the district read.
Some school districts will have COVID-19 testing on campuses for students.
Leander ISD announced it will have a Curative COVID testing facility at Gupton Stadium starting this week. A spokesperson said they plan to give more details Wednesday.
Austin ISD will have testing on all of its campuses.
Round Rock ISD said it will offer testing Monday through Friday at a centralized location in the district, but it has not finalized a location.
Last week, Manor ISD said it was providing testing through Oct. 3. The district is waiting to hear back from the TEA to see if it can continue past that, officials said.
Hutto and Pflugerville ISDs will also have on-site COVID testing available, spokespeople for the districts told KXAN on Tuesday.
Eanes will have a free testing COVID clinic this Friday for students and staff only.
- For a comprehensive list of COVID-19 protocols in every Central Texas district, click here