Mask up at school

New campus Covid guidelines

By Shanna Cummings

The Culberson County-Allamoore Independent School District announced a new set of Covid guidelines that went into effect August 31. The announcement was sent to parents and posted to district social media accounts.

All students, faculty and staff are required to wear masks on campus. Masks will be available at the front entrance of the school.

Students who have direct contact with Covid but who don’t display symptoms do not have to quarantine.

Students experiencing symptoms of Covid need to stay home and alert the school nurse.

The school will conduct Covid testing on site for any student or staff/faculty member who requests one.

PE classes and recess will include only one grade level at a time, as opposed to two.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) guidelines this year allow for only 20 remote learning days per year, and only apply to students quarantined by the school.

The district may alter guidelines in the future in response to TEA guidance and local circumstances.

The new guidelines were instituted in response to three separate school-related Covid cases, two of which happened after school began. The affected students and staff were quarantined according to last year’s guidelines.

The district’s plan to keep students in class this year relies on effective quarantining and mask use to prevent spread. If quarantining and mask wearing prevent an outbreak and allow students to remain in school, the district will consider making masks optional.

The district’s mask requirement contradicts Governor Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates, which is currently unenforceable while under litigation, according to guidance provided by the TEA.

The district also allows a person who may have come in contact with Covid to choose whether or not to quarantine, unless they develop Covid symptoms. However, since a person could be infected with Covid and not display symptoms, masking and hand washing and cleaning protocols are crucial. Superintendent Ken Baugh said via email that the school did not experience any student-to-student spread of Covid last year, and all student infections originated outside of the school.

This year’s guidelines were devised in order to ensure students could safely attend in-classroom instruction as much as possible. Most of last year’s mitigation procedures remain, including temperature checks at the front entrance, daily building and bus sanitation, extra cleaning of high-contact areas, dividers and social distancing in the cafeteria during lunch and contactless water bottle filling stations instead of drinking fountains.

The district has retained the extra staff and faculty positions hired last year in response to Covid, including a full-time emotional needs counselor.

“Well over 80 percent” of district staff are vaccinated, as well as “many” secondary students, according to the district announcement. Covid vaccines are currently approved for ages 12 and up, and the school hosted a number of free vaccination clinics during the summer.

“We had not put new quarantine protocols in place for this school year, not expecting Covid positive cases to occur in the first few weeks of school,” the announcement said. Culberson County is not currently considered a hot spot for virus transmission, though cases of Covid in the county have increased in recent weeks.

Presentation of the guidelines and ongoing mitigation efforts during the August 30 school board meeting allowed parents to express their concerns about lack of parent involvement in determining school Covid guidelines. Prior to the school board meeting, parents on Facebook expressed concern that quarantine protocols would keep large swaths of the student population out of the classroom for a week or 14 days like last year. Baugh and the school board encouraged parents to join a committee aimed at encouraging parent participation in school decisions.

Baugh said the decisions about the new Covid guidelines came after discussions with school staff and parents he could contact. “The response from the staff and parents was the same,” he explained via email. “Get the children back into class, even if it means the inconvenience of masks, but do it as safely as you can.”

“COVID, COVID shots, and masks have become a polarizing topic everywhere,” Baugh continued via email. “We are just trying to apply a common sense approach to a problem we are all dealing with. Keeping our children safe, healthy, and in school is what we should be focused on and what we are doing.”