Students exposed to COVID-19 during STAAR tests; districts push for in-person learning


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Anderson High School is wrestling with a spike in COVID-19 exposures after positive cases quadrupled during the week STAAR testing began.

The school has contacted some families, asking their children to remain quarantined after they were contact-traced back to the STAAR testing that occurred on campus last week. The district reports the positive cases are now isolated and did not originate in the classroom from the STAAR testing itself, but from outside extracurriculars.

According to the Austin Independent School District COVID-19 dashboard on Monday, the number of positive cases at Anderson High jumped from three to 14. The number of new exposures on campus jumped from three to 94.

“I just have no words for what happened. This was the worst scenario and nightmare that we could have imagined. And we didn’t think it was going to happen to us, but it did,” said Nancy Thompson, whose ninth-grade daughter is one of the students now under mandatory quarantine.

Thompson said she has kept her daughter at home for the entire year but felt compelled to send her in to STAAR testing so she could finish her End-of-Course Assessments with the learning material still fresh in her mind.

“The odds were not in her favor. She was exposed to COVID during STAAR testing at Anderson High School,” Thompson said. “I have no words for what happened.”

Austin ISD officials wouldn’t respond when we asked about the exposures that occurred. We asked about the overall timeline and the preventative steps the district took to contain the virus once they found out there was a positive case. This story will be updated to reflect the response when it is received.

This comes as AISD and other school districts are encouraging families to bring their children back for in-person learning or risk losing state funding.

Last month, when the Texas Education Agency announced it would hold school districts harmless for drops in enrollment during the pandemic, most education advocates heralded the decision as a major win. But the TEA tied the promise to certain criteria:

  1. A school district’s average on-campus attendance participation rate during the sixth 6-weeks attendance reporting period is equal to or greater than 80% of all students educated; or
  2. A school district’s average on campus attendance participation rate during the sixth 6-weeks attendance reporting period is equal to or greater than the on-campus snapshot the district provided on a single day to the TEA in October.

In other words, to satisfy criteria 2 listed above, for the final 6-weeks of the school year, AISD must maintain a benchmark at or above 44% on-campus attendance or risk losing millions in state funding. The percentage is derived from the single day “snapshot” the district provided to the TEA in October.

As such, school administrators across Central Texas are encouraging families to bring their students in for the final weeks of the school year.

“There’s a lot of exciting activities that will take place these last six weeks and we’re eager to welcome your child back to campus. We’ve missed them!” AISD Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde wrote to families. “We’ve all done a lot of work to get to this point, and we want to encourage you to send your students back to school so they can enjoy the learning opportunities that happen on campus every day.”

At the San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District, almost every student was allowed on campus on Monday for in-person learning; it’s the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.

Pflugerville ISD administrators changed their policy: beginning Friday, all families can choose to switch their child to in-person learning at any time. Previously, you would have to wait for the grading period to end.

School officials say CDC guidelines are being closely met in order to keep kids safe.

“The data shows us that the positivity rate is much lower inside our schools than in the Austin area at large. We’ve also worked to make vaccines available to every single Austin ISD teacher and staff member,” Dr. Elizalde wrote. “The CDC says classroom instruction, coupled with protocols such as masks and social distancing, is safe.”

Reach KXAN’s Education Reporter Alex Caprariello by email at or by phone at 512-703-5365, or find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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