400+ COVID-19 cases confirmed at Leander ISD, officials recommend shutdown

Williamson County

LEANDER, Texas (KXAN) — Williamson County health officials are recommending Leander Independent School District close for 10 days to slow the spread of COVID-19 — after over 400 cases were confirmed among students and staff.

But Leander ISD said Tuesday it will keep schools open, instead focusing on specific classrooms impacted by clusters of positive cases. LISD said while the district shares the county’s concerns, “at this time we do not believe a districtwide closure meets the needs of our students and families.”

Brittany Duhon, who has three students in the district, is disappointed by the LISD’s decision.

“Our fears are coming to light right in front of us,” said Duhon, who is also a member of Families United for Student Safety, a group of parents advocating for more COVID-19 safety protocols.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 411 total positive cases just a week and a half into the new school year.

In an email to the school superintendent Monday night, WCCHD’s medical director, Dr. Amanda Norwood, said about 43% of those cases are in elementary schools.

Duhon’s youngest is in kindergarten and has dealt with respiratory issues his whole life.

Duhon feels the district is "putting a band-aid on a bullet wound" in its approach to combatting COVID-19. (Photo courtesy Brittany Duhon)
Duhon feels the district is “putting a band-aid on a bullet wound” in its approach to combatting COVID-19. (Photo courtesy Brittany Duhon)

“That’s the worst fear ever, is having your child lay in the hospital bed and watching them gasp for air and not being able to help them,” Duhon said.

The district said while cases are rising, and there are some pockets of concern, other campuses have relatively few positive cases.

In the email, Norwood also said given the limitations of contact tracing and quarantining, she’s worried those exposed will become confirmed cases at “an alarming rate this week.”

She added the incidence rate of new cases for LISD about 2.7 times the amount of spread in the surrounding county.

Cherie Rintoul said the case spread doesn’t concern her very much, and she’s glad the district will focus on quarantines by classroom instead of shutting down entirely.

“I feel like the chance of them being anything other than potentially asymptomatic or having a very mild case is very slim,” said Rintoul, who has two kids in elementary school.

Norwood also recommended four actions to stop the spread at LISD:

  1. Universal masking policy that limits op outs to only those with medical exemption
  2. Robust contact tracing on campuses
  3. Required quarantine for at least seven days (preferably 10-14 days) for identified close contacts
  4. Virtual options for students who are unable to be vaccinated

The district is following Norwood’s recommendation of a masking requirement but is still allowing opt-outs.

They said if COVID-19 cases continue to rise, they may have to shut down multiple classrooms and whole schools, which would also affect extracurricular activities.

The district said in a Monday meeting about 10% of parents opted out of having their kids wear masks. During that meeting, the board said it would continue its optional masking requirement through Sept. 9. However, some families don’t believe that estimate is accurate.

Kerry and Diane Rosker said their high schooler estimates more than 50% of kids are not wearing their masks.

“We want our kid back at school. We just want it to be as safe as possible,” Diane said. “We are stuck in a conundrum that we don’t understand. We feel like the kids’ safety is not being looked at.”

The district said it’s trying to enforce masks as much as possible, including working with campus administrators who might be able to better gain control of their student populations. However, a district spokesperson expressed the difficulty of pleasing all parental opinions.

“We believe that in our experience last year, [masking] was a key method of preventing spread,” said LISD spokesperson Corey Ryan. “But we are in the school business, not the discipline business. And we are trying to balance this line of giving families the individual flexibility they enjoy in their schooling while also trying to manage a very important health requirement.”

Leander ISD has also approved eight days of leave for staff members who test positive for COVID-19.

The district said it believes keeping in-person schooling open as long as possible is necessary to make sure students receive essential services, like a proper education, meals and counseling.

Possible switch to virtual

While doing what it can to keep in-person learning ongoing, Leander ISD officials said it is thoroughly examining campuses and may make a decision to send an individual classroom home to work virtually. Families would be notified directly if that decision comes down.

If this happens, these classrooms would be engaging what the Texas Education Agency defines as “remote conferencing,” a state-approved virtual program that allows students to stay home and school districts to continue counting their attendance, thereby receiving state funding.

In order to qualify, students will either have to have a doctor’s note, have tested positive for COVID-19 or have been a close contact to the virus. They would receive instruction from their teacher or a designated instructor and students are not be allowed to do this for more than 20 days in the academic year.

The TEA said if a medical condition persists longer than 20 instructional days, a waiver request may be submitted for it to continue. In order to qualify for state funding, students in grade pre-K to five must receive at least two hour of synchronous learning per school day. Students in grades six through 12 must receive at least four hours. Students must also be virtually present when attendance is taken.

Shutdowns across Texas

Several Texas districts have temporarily closed recently as COVID-19 surges across the Lone Star State.

In East Texas, Woden ISD in Woden announced Tuesday it would cancel classes through Friday to deep clean its facilities. Northeast Texas district Hughes Springs ISD is doing the same, saying “we simply cannot continue to have school open under current circumstances.”

Meanwhile, the Iraan-Sheffield Independent School District in Iraan canceled classes for two weeks after a rise in local cases.

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