This headline ran in a Texas newspaper a week after the Thanksgiving break: “COVID spread remains minimal in Texas schools despite state surge.” Minimal, in the writer’s judgment, meant slightly less than 2 percent of those on campuses since schools reopened for the fall had tested positive for the disease.
Minimal, however, would probably not be the first word used by many of the 41,000 students and 24,600 school employees who have contracted the virus – or their families and colleagues. The statistics also don’t include the number of additional cases that may have been generated over the Thanksgiving holiday.
Moreover, the number of reported cases in schools is likely to increase as more districts offer COVID testing. And we don’t know how many students and school staff have had minor or more-serious cases because the state doesn’t keep separate statistics on school-related COVID hospitalizations or deaths.
Gov. Greg Abbott and Education Commissioner Mike Morath, however, must be encouraged by the “minimal” statistics because they continue to bully school districts to keep school buildings open or lose state funding. This means many educators are forced to risk their health and their families’ safety during a deadly pandemic that is worsening.
Abbott and Morath also are doubtlessly encouraged by health experts who say that not all of the reported COVID cases were transmitted on campuses. But that doesn’t mean the number of cases in schools won’t explode after the winter break because, regardless where students or employees contract the virus, they will bring it to school if they don’t stay home.
The governor and the education commissioner don’t have to be on school campuses. Educators do, and there are several reasons for educators to remain concerned.
One is the number of school districts that have abandoned remote learning and require all students to return to campuses for in-person instruction. Fortunately, most of the larger districts continue to offer virtual learning, and that has helped control the rate of COVID transmissions because many schools are not as crowded as they normally would be. But as more schools drop virtual learning, infections in schools may increase, particularly in schools that are not enforcing COVID safety standards and guidelines.
More than 1,100 TSTA members in more than 150 school districts have reported more than 6,000 violations of COVID safety standards. These include violations of the governor’s mask order and social distancing, poor classroom ventilation, inadequate protective equipment and sanitation supplies and personnel policies that discourage school employees who may have been exposed to the virus from staying home to quarantine. They fear cuts in pay and/or loss of jobs.
The governor and the education commissioner ignore the safety violations while they continue to bully school districts into putting students, teachers and other employees at risk during the greatest health crisis of their lifetimes.