Hays CISD Hires More Nurses To Handle Contact Tracing, Asks Abbott To Give Districts Right To Mandate Masks
As students in Hays Consolidated Independent School District enter the second week of the school year, district officials are hiring more nurses, doubling down on contact tracing efforts and asking the governor for the right to mandate masks.
Hays CISD previously said it will not institute a mask mandate, citing difficulties with enforcement and questions of legality.
But several school board members have expressed interest in passing a mask mandate, if they can do so legally. On Monday, the school board voted to send a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott, Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath and state representatives asking for "the right to lawfully require masks in schools given current local health conditions."
"As educators, we know that one size does not fit all," the letter reads. "Providing local districts the flexibility to adapt to the COVID-19 conditions in our areas is the best strategy to keep Texas students healthy, in their classrooms, and engaged in learning for the entire school year."
At least five classrooms have been closed since the start of the school year and have moved temporarily to remote learning. Classrooms are shut down when there are three or more positive COVID-19 cases detected in a given week. Entire campuses are shut down if more than 10% of students and staff test positive.
The district will now update their COVID-19 case count dashboard every day, instead of once a week. District officials are also streamlining the way they notify parents about positive cases on campus.
Currently, the district sends out a campus-wide letter if a positive case is detected at a school. An additional email is sent to students and staff who may have been in close contact with the person who tested positive.
Instead, the district is planning to publish a daily update detailing the number of positive cases and the classrooms or teachers that could have been exposed.
The change is an attempt to ease the workload off campus nurses, who are tasked with managing notifications, taking care of infected children and fielding questions from parents whose children have been exposed.
Superintendent Eric Wright said implementing these protocols "requires a lot of manpower," so the district is contracting with an outside company, Maxim Healthcare, to hire additional nursing staff.
Wright said the hires were necessary "so that we can do the contact tracing to the specificity that we need and then be able to generate this information and get it to our our community in a timely way."
The district is also looking into creating more vaccine clinics at its various campuses and encouraging principals to "lead by example" and wear masks. Wright said the district is also spacing out lunch schedules and encouraging the use of outside space for lunch when possible.
"We're encouraging our principals to try to make sure that they get the distance that is necessary so that kids can be safe while they're eating their lunch," Wright said.
School board member Merideth Keller said she is concerned about the several classrooms that have been closed because of positive coronavirus cases.
"Today we had to close another classroom, and that is so, so terrible to me," Keller said. "I think that no matter where anyone falls on their politics ... I think that everyone agrees that we want kids in class."
Keller also asked for extra support at Dahlstrom Middle School, where she said there's a "perfect storm" of construction, closed-off hallways and overcrowding. The middle school is currently being expanded as part of a bond project that passed earlier this year.
Board member Will McManus suggested creating campus task forces that can help identify problem areas in schools like Dahlstrom.
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