Statewide data collection for COVID-19 cases in Texas schools still ‘under active deliberation’


AUSTIN (Nexstar) — As some Texas schools reopen this week, some questions linger about how districts will report COVID-19 cases.

Student or staff cases of COVID-19 are supposed to be reported by each school district to local health officials, but there is no formal guidance on sending that information to state education leaders.

San Antonio parent Angela Rabke, a mother of three, said the decisions state education officials make impact her youngest child the most. He is a special education student in public school.

“I feel like it’d be useful for the state to know how many cases there are in the schools. It’s their job to come up with policies that are keeping these students and these teachers safe,” Rabke said.

“Policies, I think, are inconsistent between schools,” Rabke said, citing the different approaches districts are taking for reopening schools this fall during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s hard for our leaders to, you know, make choices that help everyone move this problem along if it’s, you know, if there’s not some good guidelines,” she said.

While the Texas Education Agency released dozens of pages of guidelines for educators and families, it had not determined whether it plans to collect data of novel coronavirus cases in Texas classrooms— or how it would do it.

“The question on data collection is still under active deliberation by TEA,” a spokesperson with the Texas Education Agency said this week.

On the first day of school for Ector County Independent School District, superintendent Dr. Scott Muri said local context matters when interpreting COVID-19 case data.

“All of our decisions are purely based upon the context in Ector County and that context varies from, you know, the East Texas to West Texas, north and south,” Muri said.

“But the data itself, yes, it’s interesting, as long as it’s used to further the science and used to really support schools across the state of Texas,” he stated.

“If a case does appear, there’s a lot of context, you know, what were the were the children wearing masks? How many students were in the room? What was the exposure of that teacher over the weekend, if you will, so a lot of questions, but it is interesting data that we’re tracking locally, so that we can share data with our community, with our parents, with our students, etc.,” Muri explained.

Meanwhile, Abilene ISD’s school board pushed the start date back to Aug. 24.

“It’s not if we get a case that impacts a campus, I mean, it’s when we get a case,” superintendent Dr. David Young said. “We’ve been working on what those processes are.”

A TEA spokesperson said the agency expected “to have an update in the coming weeks on what, if any, data will be required and how it will be recorded.”

The state has guidance for schools on how to handle the chain of reporting for flu outbreaks, but TEA did not respond to an inquiry on similarities between the processes for flu and for COVID-19.

“If the way that we’re collecting data across the board is inconsistent, then no one can make an educated choice for their families,” Rabke said.

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