On Monday, Iraan-Sheffield Independent School district in West Texas announced that its schools would close for two weeks so that students and staff could quarantine because of a sharp rise in coronavirus cases.
Superintendent Tracy Canter told Texas Standard that cases began to rise once teachers returned to work in early August, and they rose sharply after students returned last week. She says about 16% of students have tested positive for COVID-19 or have needed to quarantine because of exposure to the coronavirus.
“We’ve seen more positive and quarantined [students] than we did in the entire school year last year, so just in this last week,” Canter said.
Her district worked with the Texas Education Agency, as well as with Region 18 that oversees districts in her area, to come up with the temporary shut down plan. As for a return-to-school plan after the two weeks, Canter says some things are still undecided, including whether to require mask-wearing. Several Texas school districts have begun to require masking, despite a statewide ban on mask mandates in public schools, and risk of lawsuits. Canter says she intends to follow the law, but also says mask-wearing is an “ongoing discussion” with state and local education officials.
“We have kind of a luxury right now. We’re postponed for two weeks, so we have the opportunity to see how these things play out,” she said. “And so, of course, we’ll take all those things into account when we make our final decision.”
Canter is very concerned about student learning loss because of time away, but says the district tried to account for possible days lost due to COVID-19 when it planned this year’s academic calendar.
“Our team had enough foresight back in the spring … to build in additional minutes during the school day, in the school year, so that in the event we did have to postpone school, that we wouldn’t lose any ground as far as meeting those minimum requirements,” Canter said.
She doesn’t expect the shutdown will last longer than two weeks, and even hopes to bring back elementary school students sooner if it’s feasible.